Three fisherman flung from their boat while crossing the notorious Greymouth bar clung to the upturned hull before being washed away by waves, resulting in the skipper's death, an inquest has heard.
Dunedin coroner David Crerar today began the inquest into the death of the skipper, Nicholas Brett Ecklund, 36, who drowned when the Lady Anna foundered while entering the Greymouth River at low tide about 7.30am on April 16 last year.
His two crew made it ashore but Mr Ecklund was unable to reach the floatation aids being thrown to him from the riverbank, and drowned within metres of the rocks.
Detective Constable William Tailby said Mr Ecklund was on his first trip on the vessel but had 19 years in the industry, 90 per cent of it fishing out of Greymouth. Of the crew members, Jethro Carson was an experienced deckhand but it was Joseph Campbell's first trip on a fishing boat.
Mr Campbell, who police could not locate to give direct evidence to the inquest, told police that Mr Ecklund began making preparations to cross the bar at 7am. No one was wearing a lifejacket and there was no indication that the skipper was unhappy about crossing the bar. It was his decision to do so.
They were crossing when a large wave from the rear rolled the vessel and all three men ended up on the upturned hull. Another wave swept them off but they made the safety of the hull again before being swept off a second time. The two crew shared a life ring, while Mr Ecklund was swimming some metres from them. He was unable to get closer to them and as they were at the mercy of the river current, they were being swept away from him.
Rescuers tried to throw floatation devices to Mr Ecklund but these were swept away before he could grab them.
At 7.50pm three large waves forced him under, and when he resurfaced he was face down in the water.
Troy Smith, owner of the Lady Anna, said Mr Ecklund had expressed a desire to enter the port and unload the next day, Tuesday, April 17, but he was advised by Talleys that they had staff and trucks ready so it would have to be on Monday.
Mr Ecklund told him they had "missed the tide" and would not be in until 10am or 11am, to which a Talleys spokesman said: "If that's how it's got to be, that's how it's got to be."
Mr Smith was therefore unsure why Mr Ecklund had tried to cross the bar at low tide earlier in the morning.
He was in radio contact with him and the skipper had said he was on the phone to "a guy in a white ute" on the tiphead, who said it was okay to cross. That was the last he heard from him.
Greymouth Coastguard spokesman Franco Horridge said he first received a phone call - his pager was not working - at 7.45am, some eight minutes after the boat rolled.
He got to the base at the same time as two others, but the option of launching the inflatable was lost because the four designated drivers either could not be contacted or could not respond.
Eventually, Coastguard got the bigger Ivan Talley boat out into the river at 8.14am, but by then it was too late to effect a rescue.
Helicopter pilot Christopher Wilding said his response was as swift as it could be.
He did not take a scoop net because he had been told the crew were close to the rocks, making the net useless, so it was decided to take a rescue swimmer instead.
By the time they got to the scene, Mr Ecklund was being pulled from the water.
- The Greymouth Star