Dive squad call off search for the day

By Jarrod Booker

Dallas Reedy was recovering in hospital yesterday after his 18-hour ordeal. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Dallas Reedy was recovering in hospital yesterday after his 18-hour ordeal. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Police have called off the search for the day for four people still missing in Foveaux Strait after the fishing vessel Easy Rider sank.

Those who are thought to have drowned are William Rewai Desmond Karetai, 47, of Bluff, and Invercargill residents Shane Ronald Topi, 29, Paul Jason Fowler-Karetai, 40, Odin Karetai, 7, Boe Taikawa Gillies, 28, John Henry Karetai, 58, Peter Glen Pekamu-Bloxham, 53, and David George Fowler, 50.

Dallas Reedy, 44, was rescued after clinging for 18 hours to a petrol can.

Police said they had recovered little of significance in today's search.

EASY RIDER'S LAST SECONDS

When the fishing trawler Easy Rider left Bluff on Wednesday night, the nine crew and passengers on board were in high spirits and looking forward to fruitful muttonbirding and cod fishing expeditions.

"All the wives were on the wharf, and they waved out to their husbands, saying 'good luck, and see you, and have a good season'," said deckhand Dallas Reedy, 44, the only one of the nine to have returned from the trip alive.

The weather was not too rough, the ship's load was well secured and, despite suggestions otherwise, the vessel was not overloaded, Mr Reedy told the Weekend Herald from his hospital bed yesterday afternoon.

But he said those on board could not have foreseen the two freak waves that struck the 11m vessel from the side and capsized it near the northern tip of Stewart Island hours after it had set sail.

Mr Reedy was sitting at the back of the boat with two seasick passengers he had just met when the first wave struck the vessel's starboard (right) side and "washed me to port side through the boat".

"While I was there, I think another wave hit us and tipped us right over. It happened within 10 seconds. I heard the rush, saw the water and it blew me straight over the side of the boat."

Mr Reedy was swept into a lonely, gruelling 18-hour ordeal in icy waters during which he thought he would die with the other eight on board.

He talked and sang old songs to himself - and to the empty petrol container he clung onto and named "Wilson" in the tradition of the Tom Hanks film Castaway - to keep himself going.

After the waves struck, Mr Reedy initially scrambled on to the upturned vessel and stayed there for two hours, tapping on the hull to try to get a response from those who were inside the boat's wheelhouse, but getting no response.

The sound of rushing air signalled the boat was sinking "like the Titanic".

When the petrol container popped up, Mr Reedy - without a life jacket - grabbed it and emptied it so he could use it to keep himself afloat.

For the next 16 hours, he called on all his Army and diving experience.

He also thought about the amazing survival story of a former school classmate, Robert Hewitt, who survived at sea for four days and three nights off the Kapiti Coast near Wellington in 2006.

But eventually Mr Reedy felt himself fading and he began making peace with his situation.

"I wasn't scared. I thought 'oh well, I am about to find out what's on the other side'.

"I was ready to cross over, and that made me a lot more relaxed. I talked to myself and to Wilson."

But something made him hang on. He wanted to be there for his two sons' 16th and 18th birthdays next week, and to see his wife again.

"We have just had our 20th wedding anniversary, and I wanted a few more.

"Towards the end, [Thursday] night, at 6pm, I didn't have anything left in me. I was ready to go and I heard the boat coming."

A young man standing on the back of a rescue boat had seen him.

"If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be here. I couldn't have lasted another night. When they pulled me out of the water, it was like coming out of the womb, being reborn."

Mr Reedy did not see the bodies of any of the other eight people on the Easy Rider.

But he learned after being rescued that one body was found in the area near him.

"I don't feel guilty about it that I lived. I wish I had been able to do something else for my mates. But I fought for my life. I really wanted to live."

Mr Reedy is recovering in hospital from the effects of his ordeal, including hypothermia.

He had an emotional meeting with the families of the eight victimsyesterday.

Some of them asked him what their loved ones were doing before the vessel was capsized.

Mr Reedy's hope now is that all of those families will be able to have their loved ones' bodies returned to them.

Last night the bodies of four of the victims, including Shane Ronald Topi, 29, from Invercargill, had been recovered from the sea.

- NZ Herald

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