Kurt Bayer

Kurt Bayer is an APNZ reporter based in Christchurch.

Bad weather puts Nina search on hold

The classic American schooner Nina is still missing along with her crew.
The classic American schooner Nina is still missing along with her crew.

The cash-strapped search operation for missing yacht Nina is on hold while bad weather hits the targeted search region south of Norfolk Island - and while thousands of satellite images are scoured over for a positive clue.

A private search for the missing historic schooner, whose crew of seven was last heard from in rough Tasman Sea conditions on June 4, was launched after the official one was called off on July 4.

Family and friends of the missing crew have been fundraising to keep private search efforts alive.

Their hope for the missing 85-year-old vessel was renewed when recent satellite images captured an orange object, possibly a liferaft, similar to the one the Nina carried.

The most recent set of aerial searching, which was being carried out in a Kiwi Air plane, last Monday.

Searchers had covered a high probability area to the west and north of Norfolk Island.

Nothing of particular interest had been located, said search liaison John Funnell.

They now wanted to try a lower probability area to the south where they think the supposed liferaft may have drifted.

There was no search yesterday or today due to 30 to 40 knot winds blasting the area.

But Mr Funnell said they wouldn't be rushing out anyway, given the search operation is running on a "hand-to-mouth" basis due to funding restrictions.

The search plane costs about US$20,000 (NZ$25,600) a day, he said, leaving them just enough funding for about one-and-a-half days of searching.

And the bad weather has given them a chance to plough through thousands of satellite images, which gave families hope earlier this month when the orange "liferaft" was picked up.

The families are using satellite images from Digital Global, which then passes them on to crowd-sourcing system, Tomnod.

People can log on to the www.tomnod.com website and see if they find anything unusual from thousands of high-resolution images.

If several people click on an image, it alerts search controllers based in Texas, US who then evaluate the images, classify them, and then develop a new search area.

"We're looking at all the images to see if there's anything there that's more valid than what we've got and that needs to be investigated," Mr Funnell said.

"Funding is an issue and that's why we have to be careful what we do. We need a robust or valid image before we charge out and spend funds. That's why we're not rushing out in less than ideal conditions.

"The system is not infallible but it's a damn sight better than what we've had."

Family and friends of the seven missing crew members have been fundraising to keep the search alive after the official operation ended on July 4

Nina left the Bay of Islands on May 29 and was headed for Newcastle, Australia.

It is owned by professional captain David Dyche III, 58, and his wife, Rosemary, 60. They were on board with son David Dyche jnr, 17, and fellow Americans Evi Nemeth, 73, Kyle Jackson, 27, and 18-year-old Danielle Wright. Also on board was Briton Matthew Wootton, 35.

A facebook campaign, 'Bringing home the Nina and her crew', has been launched for support and donations.

But even though the campaign has been well-supported, Mr Funnell said funds are running low and they must be judicious as to when and where they search.

"There's a limit to everything. People are not going to fund this forever," he said.

"We need to come up with some results."

- APNZ

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