Earthrace crew allowed to leave Guatemala [audio]

New Zealand skipper Pete Bethune and his Earthrace crew have been allowed to leave Guatemala after a judge ruled a fatal collision with a fishing boat was an accident.

The men were detained after the incident which left a local fisherman missing, presumed dead and another seriously injured.

The New Zealanders told officials the fishing boat did not appear on radar and had no lights.

Prosecutors were pressing for charges of negligence causing death, which carries a jail sentence, but the judge ruled no charges would be laid.

Mr Bethune said: "Thankfully the judge didn't see it that way and I'm just relieved to have it over."

He and his crew now have the all clear to leave the country and they hope to depart later today, depending on the progress of repairs to the trimaran's propeller.

Mr Bethune met with the victims' families before the court hearing.

"That was a very emotional affair actually," he said. "The crew's devastated and the mind boggles about how the families feel, but they were very gracious.

"They had some questions about what happened on the night. It was very emotional.

"I'm glad they agreed to the meeting. I'd hate to leave here without having to meet with the families."

Mr Bethune is now visiting the injured man in hospital today.

Mr Bethune's wife Sharyn said from the family home in Torbay, Auckland, that she heard from her husband about the court's decision about 6.10am today and he was "very relieved".

She said it was important for her husband to meet with the missing man's family before leaving the country. "He said they are just amazing people -- just ridiculously poor and just very, very, strong."

Fisherman

Mrs Bethune said she called her husband while he was visiting the fisherman - named as Gonzalez - and heard part of the conversation between the two.

"What I heard of the conversation was 'you're an amazing man Gonzalez', so obviously he (the fisherman) is very strong."

Mr Bethune's lawyer Fernando Lorenzana said they were working toward a settlement with the judge, the family of the missing fisherman and their insurance company over the crash.

The 24m Earthrace was trying to beat a 75-day round-the-world speed record when it hit the 5m fishing skiff off the Guatemala coast.

Mr Bethune had always said he could make the trip in 65 days, but the Earthrace also lost a couple of days on its first leg, from Barbados to Panama, when its carbon fibre propellers disintegrated.

Mrs Bethune said it was unlikely they would now be able to break the record for the race around the world.

"I think we'll just look at getting through the next leg at the moment. The first two legs have proved difficult."

Mrs Bethune said her husband had found the process slow, but had been treated very well by the authorities.

"He said they are a very humble people, very proud people considering there is a lot of poor people there as well. But he said he's been treated very well," she said.

"The frustration was the fact that it took so long for the outcome."

The Earthrace began its bid to break the world circumnavigation record -- set by British boat Cable & Wireless in 1998 -- on March 10 in Barbados, and completed the first leg of the trip in 83 hours.

- NEWSTALK ZB, NZPA

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