Natalie Akoorie is a reporter at the NZ Herald based in Hamilton.

Missing sailor found alive near East Cape

Darius DeWet has been found alive sailing near Cape Runaway after a frantic search began this morning for the inexperienced young South African sailor. Photo / Supplied
Darius DeWet has been found alive sailing near Cape Runaway after a frantic search began this morning for the inexperienced young South African sailor. Photo / Supplied

A VHF radio is being sent to a young, inexperienced yachtie found alive today near Cape Runaway off the East Cape after an extensive search.

Darius DeWet, 20, from South Africa, had gone missing with his yacht Luna north of Gisborne with the last sighting on Monday.

But he was found by a Royal New Zealand Air Force helicopter 16km south of Cape Runaway at 2.40pm today.

Authorities say the cost of the search is not yet known. However, the young man would not be billed, as this could put off others who might need help from authorities.

Maritime New Zealand spokesman Vince Cholewa said DeWet appeared to be unharmed and his yacht undamaged. He was continuing to sail.

"We still can't talk to him because he's got no comms which has been the whole problem," Cholewa said.

"He's had no working comms since Friday last week."

The Rescue Co-ordination Centre NZ is now sending a maritime VHF radio to DeWet's yacht.

A Coastguard vessel would deliver the radio to him this evening.

Search and rescue mission co-odinator Mike Roberts urged anyone planning to head to sea to make sure they relayed their plans to family and friend and that they were equipped with the right equipment.

"The skipper left a vague trip plan and seems to have had no working communications equipment since Friday last week. Even when two search aircraft located him he was unable to communicate his intentions or report on his condition.

"We want boaties to always leave a detailed trip plan with family, a friend or a boating organisation, and to take at least two forms of communications that will work when wet. A registered distress beacon is also highly recommended for all boats,'' Roberts said.

"If we don't know where you are going and you cannot call, then you cannot be rescued if you get into trouble."

The worst of the bad weather conditions were now behind DeWet.

The Luna had been last seen on Monday. Photo / Maritime New Zealand
The Luna had been last seen on Monday. Photo / Maritime New Zealand

Cholewa said the novice sailor would likely get to Whakatane by tomorrow morning however police, the Coastguard, Maritime New Zealand the Rescue Coordination Centre planned to "talk" to DeWet about abandoning the journey to Auckland.

Meanwhile friends back in the Hawkes Bay were rapt DeWet was safe.

A worker at The Loading Ramp bar in Havelock North where DeWet had friends said they were "absolutely" relieved the shy but friendly young man had been found.

"He's a really cool guy who did something dumb."

Sam McClinchie from the Tutira Store where DeWet went every day for his mail said she was pleased he had been found alive and well.

DeWet had only just purchased the boat six weeks ago and done it up. He wanted to go on an adventure, his former employer Kevin Blair said.

Blair, a dairy farmer in Tutira, said DeWet worked for him for a year to learn about New Zealand farming before finishing up in late August to undertake the sailing trip.

"He wanted to have an adventure. So he'd bought a yacht on Trade Me, locally, and we suggested he needed to join the sailing club, and Coastguard and get some experience."

Blair said sailing lessons with a friend fell through but the friend checked out the boat and made some minor adjustments and recommendations to DeWet.

"Another friend was moored in the yacht club there and had taken him a couple of books over about sailing and reading maps and a candle in case the battery failed.

"And everybody suggested he shouldn't go anywhere until the summer or until he'd gained some more experience. But at 20 he was ready for a big adventure. As you are at that age he was '10-foot tall and bullet proof'."

Blair said DeWet, who he described as a hard worker but a bit of a loner, was strong and healthy, at home in the outdoors and self-sufficient. His plan was to sail to the Hauraki Gulf.

His parents owned a dairy farm in South Africa where DeWet grew up and he knew how to hunt and ran to keep fit.

Blair said earlier he hoped DeWet was hunkered down in a bay somewhere, taking shelter from bad weather and waiting it out.

Search and Rescue Mission Coordinator Mike Roberts said there was still no communication with the yacht but the helicopter made close passes and the yacht appeared undamaged and the skipper unharmed.

"Thankfully, the worst weather is now behind Luna and she should be in comfortable sailing conditions," he said.

"We are glad for the outcome and we will always do what we can when a vessel is missing or in danger but this has been a frustrating endeavour.

"The skipper is inexperienced, left a vague trip plan, and seems to have had no working communications equipment since Friday last week. Even when two search aircraft located him he was unable to communicate his intentions or report on his condition."

Roberts said boaties should always leave a detailed trip plan with family, a friend or a boating organisation, and to take at least two forms of communications that will work when wet.

A registered distress beacon was also highly recommended for all boats.

"If we don't know where you are going and you cannot call, then you cannot be rescued if you get into trouble."

The Rescue Coordination Centre (RCCNZ) put an alert out this morning asking for information about the overdue 6.7m (22-foot) yacht, Luna.

Roberts said Luna was last seen at Anaura Bay, 73km north of Gisborne, at 4.15pm on Monday.

Weather in the area was deteriorating earlier today, and 30-knot winds, rain and low cloud were expected sparking the concern.

New Zealand Defence Force crew helped to find the missing yachtie. Photo / Supplied
New Zealand Defence Force crew helped to find the missing yachtie. Photo / Supplied

Luna sailed from Napier on Friday morning, bound for Auckland. The skipper had told a friend he would call every 24 hours and made a cellphone call at 10.30pm on Friday but has not called since.

"Our concern is this appears to be an inexperienced sailor heading into weather dangerous for a small boat and no one has heard from him," Roberts said earlier.

The Maritime Radio Service asked all vessels in the area for sightings of the yacht and a Royal New Zealand Air Force helicopter searched the area for several hours.

DeWet joined the Napier Sailing Club last month so he could work on the yacht, according to manager Shelly Te Uki.

"He's a really nice guy. We hope he's okay," she said earlier.

Te Uki heard of DeWet's plans to sail up the coast to Auckland and asked if he felt confident enough to do it.

He told Te Uki: "I'll be fine."

Club members were not aware he had left and the first she knew DeWet had set off was when she learned there was a search underway for him.

Maritime New Zealand spokesman Vince Cholewa said the helicopter had searched the coastline between Napier and the Eastern Bay of Plenty.

A plane found Luna anchored in Anaura Bay, near Tolaga Bay, on Monday. The skipper waved to the aircraft and appeared unharmed but made no other contact with the aircraft or anyone else since.

Cholewa said the yacht was anchored close to shore and two police observers on board the plane judged the young man's body language and deemed him and the yacht to be "absolutely fine".

He said the plane flew low and the pilot tried to make radio contact with Luna but there was no reply.

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