Morgan Tait is the NZ Herald's police reporter.

'Too big for the lifejackets': Uncle of Kaipara Harbour tragedy survivor

The Muriwai coast line was dotted with debris from the charter fishing vessel Francie that sank on Saturday 26th November. Photo / Greg Bowker
The Muriwai coast line was dotted with debris from the charter fishing vessel Francie that sank on Saturday 26th November. Photo / Greg Bowker

A survivor of the Kaipara Harbour disaster was too big for the lifejackets, and desperately clung to the flotation devices while he swam to shore badly injured.

Iripa Iripa, in his 50s, was one of 11 men aboard the Francie when it capsized on the Kaipara bar in rough seas on Saturday afternoon.

He was also just one of three survivors.

Iripa, was on the boat with a group of friends, all of Pacific Island descent, and the vessel's skipper, Bill McNatty.

McNatty has been confirmed as one of the seven deceased, with one man still missing.

The identities of two other victims, Tongan cousins Alipate "Pate" Manumu'a and Sunia "Junior" Ungo'unga, have been confirmed to the Herald by their family members.

As details of the victims emerge, so has Iripa's incredible tale of survival.

His uncle Bob Numanga said Iripa was unable to fit the lifejackets, but was able to cling to them to float to shore.

"On the boat when you go out the captain usually comes out and shows us where all the lifejackets are, so if anything happens you pick it up off the rail and put it on.

Sunia 'Junior' Ungo'unga (L) and Alipate 'Pate' Manumu'a, two of the seven men confirmed dead in the sinking of the Francie at Kaipara Harbour. Photos / Supplied
Sunia 'Junior' Ungo'unga (L) and Alipate 'Pate' Manumu'a, two of the seven men confirmed dead in the sinking of the Francie at Kaipara Harbour. Photos / Supplied

"Iripa wouldn't fit into one of those things though, he did manage to get one ... and he managed to grab a lifejacket but it wouldn't fit on him so he hung onto it and floated to shore."

Iripa's younger brother, Pu Iripa, said the family heard about the accident on the news.

"We all got in our vehicles and drove straight to Parakai, we waited about two and a half hours."

He said that his brother had been discharged from hospital today.

The Francie charter boat. Photo / Supplied
The Francie charter boat. Photo / Supplied

Numanga said that he had been fishing yesterday morning and sometimes went with his nephew, but would never go again.

"I used to go with them and last year I did go out on the same boat and we would go over the bar or just stay inside the graveyard."

READ MORE
Kaipara boat tragedy: Two more victims identified
Skipper 'happy-go-lucky chap'
Kaipara Harbour fishing boat tragedy: Seven dead, one missing from Francie charter vessel

Kaipara fishing charter tragedy: Skipper Bill McNatty among the seven dead
Pacific Peoples' Minister Sam Lotu-Iiga offers condolences to Kaipara Harbour tragedy victims' families
Kaipara Harbour tragedy: Volunteer lifeguards battled monster 7m waves
Not everyone wearing lifejackets during 'scary' bar crossing
Kaipara Harbour tragedy: Searchers battling choppy water and 2m swells

- NZ Herald

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