Thousands gather to farewell Easy Rider sinking victims

By Rosie Manins of the Otago Daily Times

Funeral services for four victims of the Easy Rider boat sinking were held today in Invercargill. Photo / Otago Daily Times
Funeral services for four victims of the Easy Rider boat sinking were held today in Invercargill. Photo / Otago Daily Times

Close to 4000 people gathered at Invercargill's Rugby Park Stadium this morning for a combined funeral service of the four men recovered from Easy Rider.

The four caskets were carried into the stadium and on to a platform where they were laid side by side.

Maori karakia, hymn and waiata punctuated tributes to the four friends, who were victims of Foveaux Strait's treacherous conditions.

They and five others were on a trip to the muttonbird islands for the start of muttonbirding season when their fishing vessel capsized and sank on March 15.

John "Dukes" Karetai, 58; Peter "Peter-Boy" Pekamu-Bloxham, 53; Shane Topi, 29; and Boe Pikia-Gillies, 28 were farewelled by family, friends and loved ones.

The 12m boat, skippered by Bluff man Rewai Karetai, 47, was hit by a rogue wave, leaving Invercargill man Dallas Reedy, 44, as the only survivor.

Limited searches are continuing for the bodies of Mr Karetai and Invercargill trio Paul Jason Fowler-Karetai, 40, Odin Karetai, 7, and David George Fowler, 50.

Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt today talked of nature's power and the sheer energy created in Foveaux Strait at the meeting of two massive oceans.

"All we can do is hold each other, grieve together, and on behalf of the people of Southland we share with you today that tragic loss and we will do everything we can to stand by you," he said.

Officiator Gwen Neave, of Stewart Island, captured the immensity of families' loss and that of the wider community.

"Just one week ago the sinking of the Easy Rider cast a pall over the beginning of this year's muttonbirding season. It shocked the communities of Bluff and Riverton and the wider Southland area, and indeed the whole country focused on the horror and drama of Easy Rider's fate and was united by the desire for a miracle rescue of all on board," she said.

Ms Neave acknowledged the four still missing.

"In the midst of today's rituals they are not forgotten," she said.

All those involved in the search for Easy Rider's nine passengers were thanked, including members of the police force, navy, airforce, dive squads, fishing crews and coastguard.

Mention was also made of a trust fund being established to help with the search for those not yet found, as well as their families.

All four deceased were remembered with kind words and family stories which drew laughter from the crowd.

As they had been carried into the stadium to powerful haka chanting, so too were they taken to their final resting places.

Mr Karetai, Mr Pekamu-Bloxham and Mr Topi were cremated and Mr Pikia-Gillies was buried at the Riverton Cemetery.

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