Images could be missing yacht Nina

By NZ Herald

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Missing schooner Nina PHOTO / STEPHEN WESTERN
Missing schooner Nina PHOTO / STEPHEN WESTERN

New satellite images of a vessel or object resembling the missing yacht Nina have been identified - raising crew families' hopes of a resolution to the five-month Tasman Sea mystery.

The families of the seven crew members say they are not giving up hope that their loved ones are still alive and are calling on authorities to resume a search. But officials say they would need better-quality images before doing so.

Satellite technology captured images of what appears to be a boat drifting about 184 nautical miles west of Norfolk Island on September 15.

Raw images of the object were collected and measured and, according to family, showed that the vessel was the same size and shape as the Nina.

The Nina, carrying six Americans and a British man, set sail from the Bay of Islands in late May and was last heard from early in June.

Official searches for the yacht have stopped, but the families have enlisted the help of a US-based search and rescue organisation.

Robin Wright, mother of 19-year-old crew member Danielle Wright, said the new images were exciting.

"We have never lost hope that the crew of Nina is alive and well and that they will be rescued, but seeing that boat image is very exciting.

"We've been scanning all these images supplied by [satellite technology] trying to find that same image again to be sure that it's not just another boat that sailed through the area that happens to be the same shape and size as Nina," she said.

"It's not a perfect system, but it's all we have at the moment."

Ian Wootton said he and wife Sue were filled with mixed emotions after the discovery of what could be the boat their 35-year-old son Matthew was on.

"You get the elation of yep, this looks like a really good image. But also the downside of, 'How are you going to find it again'?"

A MetService spokesman said it would take time to trace the weather patterns since mid-September in that area to try to determine where the boat could have drifted to.

The families have been in contact with several groups and authorities in the United States, Australia and New Zealand but no one has been willing to send out yet another official search and they were relying on funds raised privately to send out search planes.

"[Authorities] have never said that the Nina has definitely sunk," Mr Wootton said. "On the other hand ... we feel they are not going to be convinced by a satellite photo until they can see seven people holding their passports up with their date of birth clearly visible. It seems a bit like that.

"We can provide them with the data and say this is what the Nina looks like - you can see it's the same shape as the image. They have to be prepared to have a look at it. But there's nothing much we can do about it."

The Rescue Co-ordination Centre of New Zealand confirmed it had received the images from top private search and rescue organisation Texas EquuSearch and had examined the images.

Maritime NZ's general manager for safety and responses services, Nigel Clifford, said a better-quality image was needed for an official search to go ahead.

"RCCNZ undertook a close examination of the images, but does not believe they are sufficiently compelling to justify resumption of the official search," he said.

Other more technical information - including satellite type, the satellite's height above the Earth and better resolution of images - was also required.

Mr Wootton and Mrs Wright said not knowing what had happened to their children was the worst feeling for a parent.

Mrs Wright said of her daughter, Danielle: "Every child that says 'Mommy', I turn my head. I dream about her. There's no escaping, for a minute, that our only child is missing."

NZH lb

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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