Earthrace chief in court over tragedy

The Auckland captain of the Earthrace catamaran, Pete Bethune, will appear before a Guatemalan judge following a collision with a fishing boat that left one man missing and another seriously injured.

He was due to appear today but the hearing was delayed until tomorrow, Newstalk ZB reported.

The tragedy, which occurred off the Central American country, is the latest setback for the $3 million biodiesel-fuelled catamaran's attempt to set a new round-the-world record by a diesel-powered craft.

Last night, Mr Bethune said his crew were focused on paying their respects to the families of the fishermen.

"It's a journey with amazing highs and crappy lows but nothing as low as this," Mr Bethune told 3 News.

Mr Bethune's wife, Sharyn, said she had received an email from her husband saying he had hired some "high-powered lawyers" for the court appearance. She said she was pretty devastated by the accident but glad to hear that the crew were fine.

Mr Bethune told Radio New Zealand that Earthrace was about 22km offshore from Guatemala travelling at 28 km/h when it collided with the fishing vessel on Sunday night (New Zealand time). The boat had no lights, no radar signal and was low in the water.

"We got out and searched the area. We rescued two guys out of the water. There was a third guy. We saw him in the water initially and I dived in and we couldn't find him.

"I saw him there. Thirty seconds later I was in the water and he was down. We went round and looked for hours but I knew we were looking for a body at that stage."

Mr Bethune said the crew tried to get some local fishermen to help, but they refused.

"One of the guys on board had a serious medical condition. His blood pressure dropped to 70 over 60, which is right on the verges of dying. I managed to bring him up back to about 100 over 60."

Mr Bethune said a decision was made to leave the accident area and idle into the port of San Jose. It was not until they called the United States Embassy that Guatemalan Coastguard and Navy ships came and picked up the injured man.

The Earthrace crew were now confined to the boat, docked at a naval compound in Puerto Quetzal.

Mr Bethune said there was a fair bit of anger towards the crew in Guatemala. He said he could understand it when a big boat sank a local vessel with someone missing and someone injured.

"My crew are okay. However, we are encountering hostilities ..."

- NZPA, STAFF REPORTER, NEWSTALK ZB

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