An airforce Orion is returning to New Zealand after an unsuccessful search for three missing fishermen off Kiribati.
The RNZAF P3 Orion found no sign on the men after a search which covered some 42,000 square kilometres in total, Maritime New Zealand said.
The missing men, aged 33, 41 and 30, did not return from a day's fishing in their six-metre wooden boat last Wednesday.
"While rain showers today reduced visibility, the Orion crew are confident that if the men were in the search area they would have been found,'' said search and rescue coordinator Dave Wilson.
A decision on the next stage of the search would be made by search and rescue authorities in Kiribati and the rescue coordination centre in Fiji, he said.
The Orion's search was not completely fruitless, however: the crew discovered another damaged yacht, the Troutbridge, which had been reported missing after a storm on Thursday night.
The plane managed to make contact with the boat's skipper, who reported that while the catamaran had suffered hull and rig damage and was leaking, pumps on board were working effectively and the skipper was continuing to Noumea.
The plane then continued searching for the missing fishermen, and conditions yesterday were described as ideal.