Northland father and son checking cray pots lucky to be alive

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A father and son checking cray pots in Northland are lucky to be alive after being caught in rough weather when their jetski broke down, police say.

About midday yesterday (Sunday) a 55-year-old Northland man and his 15-year-old son left from Langs Beach to go to McKenzie Bay on the east coast, south of Whangarei, on their jetski to check three crayfish pots.

When they failed to return an hour later another person went out on a jetski to search for them. Police were alerted just after 3pm after he failed to find them.

Police search and rescue, the Whangarei and Kawau coastguards, Waipu Surf Lifesaving clubs, and the Northland electricity rescue helicopter then joined the search.

At 5.45pm the missing father and son were located by the helicopter 2.5km offshore just north of the Waipu River mouth.

They were still with the jetski. The 15-year-old boy was winched onto the helicopter and the man was picked up by the Whangarei Coastguard.

The father had suffered no ill-effects from the four hour ordeal, buy the boy was very cold and had early signs hypothermia.

Northland police search and rescue co-ordinator senior sergeant Cliff Metcalfe said the "sheer stupidity" of people going out in dangerous conditions defied logic.

"They put their lives and the lives of those rescuing them at risk. Police are very disappointed in their actions and a family nearly lost two of their members just two days before Christmas. They are so lucky to have survived this ordeal."

Mr Metcalfe said the weather was so bad that the Coastguard Rescue Centre was monitoring the marine conditions every 15 minutes to ensure the safety of their crew.

"Even the seagulls knew to stay on dry land. The conditions were so marginal that we couldn't get a fixed wing aircraft in the air to search and we were lucky to be able to use a helicopter."

Mr Metcalfe said police were not called until two and a half hours after the pair went missing - so the search had to cover a wide area of 77 square nautical miles.

"The trained police officer who was looking for the jetski from the helicopter just spotted it as the helicopter was flying past.

"A boat would probably have never found them in those conditions."

Police search and rescue incident controller constable Sue Grocott said the incident was a timely reminder for people to check the marine forecast before heading out on the water. and definitely not to venture out in rough seas.

She says the jetski broke down while out checking the craypots and it hadn't been serviced since last summer.

"People need to have their boats checked before taking them out to make sure they're seaworthy."

Ms Grocott says the pair had no marine radio, cellphone, flares or emergency beacon.

"It's essential to have some form of communication, so if you get into trouble you can be located easily."

Ms Grocott said if people get into difficulty on the water then they should call police for help sooner rather than later.

"This means we have a smaller search area to cover and there's less chance of people making the wrong decisions and getting into more trouble.

The only saving grace was the pair were wearing surf wetsuits and lifejackets, she said.

Last year 14 people drowned in Northland and five have drowned in the year-to-date.


- Northern Advocate

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