Limited search for Easy Rider sinking victims

Rewai Karetai aboard the FV Easy Rider. Photo / Supplied
Rewai Karetai aboard the FV Easy Rider. Photo / Supplied

A limited search for four people still missing from fishing vessel Easy Rider, including a child, will continue today.

Skipper Rewai Karetai, 47, of Bluff; Paul Jason Fowler-Karetai, 40; Odin Karetai, 7; and David George Fowler, 50, all of Invercargill, remain missing following the tragedy which happened overnight last Wednesday.

The four were among nine people aboard the Easy Rider, which left Bluff about 6pm on Wednesday bound for the mutton bird islands.

But the 12m boat was hit by a rogue wave just after midnight and sunk, leaving Invercargill man Dallas Reedy, 44, the only survivor.

Searchers have recovered the bodies of Invercargill men Boe Taikawa Gillies, 28, John Henry Karetai, 58, Peter Glen Pekamu-Bloxham, 53, and Shane Ronald Topi, 29.

Southland Area Commander Inspector Lane Todd said an aerial search would be conducted with a helicopter along the southern coast roughly between Waipapa Point and Riverton this afternoon.

As well, a vessel was searching the estuary area at the southern tip of Oreti Beach, and police police had also this morning conducted a search of Oreti Beach using a 4WD vehicle.

``Although there is little new information coming to hand, the operation team continues to be dedicated to doing the best job possible for the families,'' Mr Todd said.

``This includes the capability to mobilise a full capacity team should any new information come to hand.''

The families were also conducting a private search.

Mr Todd said the contribution of local experts had been invaluable to the search management team in ensuring that every conceivable possibility had been looked at.

``Police acknowledge the huge effort from the whole search team and in particular the many volunteers from the local commercial fishing community,'' he said.

``Police had hoped for a better outcome at this stage, and our thoughts and sympathies remain with all families involved.''

The navy, police, search and rescue staff, the Riverton and Bluff coast guards and members of the local commercial fishing fleet have put in about 52 hours' searching since Thursday, with the Easy Rider found on the sea bed on Friday. The navy and police dive squads had also been involved, searching carrying out an extensive search of the vessel finding no sign of the missing.

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) has launched an investigation into what caused the incident, with the aim of making safety recommendations based on its findings.

TAIC spokesman Peter Northcote this morning said two investigators in Southland were still in the initial stages of gathering evidence.

They would look at navy and police sonar footage of the 40,000sq m around the Easy Rider, which is resting on its side on the sea floor.

They were also conducting initial interviews, including with survivor Dallas Reedy, 44, and others involved.

``That work will continue over the next month or so, then we'll move into an analysis phase leading to production of a final report in about a year's time,'' Mr Northcote told Radio New Zealand.

One focus of the investigation would be to look at what could make a similar incident more survivable, he said.

``We generally look at three areas. We look at the people on board _ how they were qualified, how they were trained, their experience, the usual operating procedures, what equipment they had.

"We look at the vessel itself - its design, its maintenance, its full story from birth basically, and how it was performing in the environment.

"And then we look at that environment - not only things like the sea state and the weather, but it's also the regulatory environment. What did rules require of the vessel and its operation?''

Mr Northcote said if anything came up suggesting there was an urgent need for change, the TAIC had the ability to make urgent safety recommendations before the final report.

But he said a lot of the knowledge of how to stay safe was already known to people in the marine industry.

"We are particularly interested in any new learnings that might come from an incident.''

- APNZ

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