A fisherman has described frantic radio and cellphone calls to the doomed charter boat Francie in the moments leading to its disappearance.

Taia Williams, who was on a boat inside Kaipara Harbour, said: "At about 1pm Bill (Francie skipper Bill McNatty) rang our captain on the radio saying that they were on their way back and would be back at 2pm.

"He was saying that they can't cross the bar and for us to keep in view of the bar if something happens, so we were.

"We went towards the bar to have a look, and nothing."


Seven on board the Francie died last Saturday when the boat capsized. One man is missing and three survived the disaster. The boat flipped in strong winds and 4m waves.

Williams said the skipper of the charter boat he was on decided not to cross the treacherous bar and chose to stay inside the harbour.

Williams, who is from the Cook Islands and knew the men on board Francie, said the boat was looking out for Francie after McNatty alerted them that he was having trouble crossing the bar.

When an hour passed, they began to worry, he said.

"Because they were late to come across the bar we were trying to ring those fellows on their cellphones - we were trying to reach Iripa [one of the survivors] and trying to contact him on his cellphone.

"We were ringing and ringing all of these guys on the other boat, but no answer."

The captain was "trying everything", said Williams.

"All afternoon he was trying to do everything by the radio and on his cellphone. You could see he was really upset, really distressed trying to get through to him."


The captain was yelling to McNatty and swearing, and also liaised with Coastguard and the police, said Williams.

The men waited desperately for news of the Francie.

"We were out on the water when saw the Westpac helicopters swooping, that's when we knew something had happened to those fellows.

"I was really shocked. When you're out on the water sitting on the water and it's all happening outside of the bar and not knowing what's going on...it's a really bad feeling.

"We were just out there going up and down, up and down trying to see the bar, checking the bar."

"I had friends on the Francie, it's really hard. All the fishermen, they all had friends aboard the Francie."


Williams was holding a memorial for the men at the Atiu Hall where he lives and is caretaker, on Monday.

The men are part of a regular fishing fraternity who charter boats together once a fortnight. One person will "ring around" the men and those who are available will attend.

Williams' older brother, Willie Uea, was meant to go on the Francie on Saturday, but changed his mind because he had a "bad feeling", he said.

Uea said he had a "strong feeling" that something was going to happen to him.

"I got the plan two weeks ago to say I was going on the fishing trip booked for the 26th. During the week, last Wednesday, I told my wife that I'm not going fishing.

"All day at work I just got this feeling inside me, it was really strong.


"My wife didn't believe me until this happened."

He said he thought perhaps he would be in a car accident on the 45-minute drive to the charter's departure point.

Uea said he had been on the Francie just two weeks ago when he experienced a very rough bar crossing.

"It was the scariest day of my life, we went out on that boat and it was so scary - you could feel the boat going up and down and sideways. There were other boats out there but they went back earlier than us, it was so scary."


One man and the Francie are still missing after the fishing charter vessel capsized in the Kaipara Harbour.


Taulagi Afamasaga, 56, disappeared during the maritime disaster on Saturday afternoon.

Only three of the 11 men on board the charter boat survived the incident that is believed to have happened while attempting to cross the Kaipara bar.

The bodies of seven other men have been recovered.

A police spokeswoman yesterday said the search for Afamasaga was continuing.

"Search and rescue officers searched on quad bikes in the early hours of this morning during low tide, to conduct a search of the northern tip of South Head.

"The police Eagle helicopter is conducting further aerial sweeps this afternoon of the shoreline south and north of Kaipara Heads.


"Police maritime specialists are continuing to review the options available to assist with the search for the missing Francie."

The spokeswoman said police couldn't speculate on what state the boat might be in, or whether or not it had broken up.

Debris from the boat was spread for about 15km after the disaster. Much of it was items which were in the boat, rather than the boat itself.

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission is the lead investigator on the disaster.

Four investigators are working on the inquiry in the Auckland and Kaipara area. Their current focus is gathering information from the survivors, next of kin, police, members of the Kaipara boating community, and the Coastguard.

Chief Investigator Captain Tim Burfoot said the team wanted to gather as much information as possible while memories remained fresh.


Washed up debris collected by police would be passed on to the commission for analysis.

Burfoot said it was still early days in the investigation and gathering evidence would continue for some time.

The Francie charter boat. Photo / Facebook
The Francie charter boat. Photo / Facebook

Tributes are continuing to be made for the men who died.

The final victim named, Auerua Aria, 59, has been described on social media as a "very sweet man" and a "quiet and humble person".

According to Facebook posts, the Cook Islander always had a smile on his face, could "get on with anyone" and had a "beautiful way of carrying himself".