'I saw him. I saw h' />

Norm Hewitt has rubbished claims by outspoken talkback host John Banks that his brother's miracle survival story was a "hoax".

"I saw him. I saw his eyes. I have seen his wounds and I know he's been in the water for a very long time," the former All Black said yesterday, responding to claims by the ex-Police Minister on his Radio Pacific morning talkback show.

Describing the extraordinary survival account as a "hoax", Banks suggested Robert Hewitt must have spent some of the time he was missing on Mana Island.

He told his audience that he believed there was no truth to Hewitt's claims that he survived 75 hours afloat.

Banks told the Herald on Sunday: "It's either a miracle, and God would have to be involved if it's a miracle, or it's some kind of hoax. We just don't accept on face value everything that has been written".

Yesterday Norm Hewitt said his family was awaiting a transcript of the former Auckland mayor's radio remarks and would consider putting the matter into the hands of their lawyers. Any suggestions that his brother Robert was a fraud were "clearly defamatory".

"The medicals and the people who searched are testament to that."

A Navy diver, Robert Hewitt was found near Mana Island last Wednesday after three days without water and only a crayfish and four kina from his dive bag to eat.

John Bryant, officer in charge of Wellington maritime police, questioned whether Mr Banks had enough experience to provide an informed comment.

"I don't know much about John Banks' history other than as a politician. I think it's a big call for someone to start questioning this guy's story without some evidence."

Mr Bryant said Mr Hewitt's story was absolutely feasible. "You work it out - two knots of tide per hour, every hour you're going two miles for three days, you're going to go a long way.

"There's an awful lot of people out there who think they know what they're talking about for search and rescue. For people to make comment without all the facts is pretty irresponsible."

However, that doesn't wash with Banks, who insisted he was simply raising important questions. "We're not casting any aspersions. We have nothing to apologise for."


The radio host said the overwhelming response of his listeners was one of "incredulity" about Hewitt's survival.

But divers and water users in the Mana area told the Herald on Sunday while Hewitt's survival was astonishing it was entirely credible.

"There are currents going backwards and forwards. If you get the right combination of tides it's not beyond the bounds of possibility," said Kel Nairn of New Zealand Diving and Salvage.

But one expert raised questions about aspects of Hewitt's account.

Stephen Chiswell, oceanographer at National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research has studied the currents and winds in the area at the time. He estimated that Hewitt would have had to travel at 0.4 knots, very fast for a current.

"I think it's extremely unlikely that he was carried as far north as Waikanae. It's very unlikely that he would have been brought up at that speed and then brought back down at the same speed."

Chiswell said it was more likely that Hewitt drifted to Pukerua Bay or into Porirua harbour, adding that the diver probably got disoriented after so long in the water.

"I'm sure he's telling the truth as he knows it. But when you're suffering from hypothermia and have been in the water a long time, you're likely to get very disoriented. My guess is he was a lot closer to Mana Island than he thought."

Speaking from the family home near Porirua, where Robert is recovering, Norm Hewitt said his brother was able to stand, move around and was making good progress.

"He's doing really well. He's enjoyed having family and friends around him."

The family had given him newspaper clippings to read about the drama that unfolded while he was missing and had explained the extent of the search and rescue operation that was conducted for him.

He said contrary to reports, the family had never given up on him and it was important his brother knew that.

"We never thought he was dead. We'd never given up on him, we never went to the place where we thought he was dead. We said either way, we're going to bring him home."