Family of a missing fisherman are "hoping and praying" he comes home safely after wreckage of the commercial vessel he was on washed up on Saturday.

An emergency operation was launched about 11.30am today after a light plane flying near Jackson Bay, Haast, spotted some debris and a life raft on the shoreline.

A helicopter was deployed and about three hours later spotted a man from the boat on a rock at Neils Beach.

He was in a stable condition in Greymouth Hospital. But the search for two missing men who were also on the boat was suspended shortly before 7pm.


One of the missing men, Jay Cairney, was described tonight by family as an experienced fisherman, and his relatives were praying for his safe return.

"We have only learned tonight that he was on board and is missing. Our minds are truly all over the place," sister-in-law Wendy Cairney said.

"All the Cairney family from here in Timaru, Greymouth and Australia are all praying for him to come home, safe and sound.

"Our feelings are all over the place and all our friends and family in Greymouth and everywhere else are hoping and praying too."

She described Cairney as an experienced fisherman who loved to socialise "when home from sea".

"Always the laugh at a party, no matter the situation. He would turn frowns upside down as he loved everyone being happy."

Search crews will assess weather conditions early tomorrow before recommencing the shoreline search.

Cairney works for Westfleet Seafoods, a Greymouth fishery.

The company's chief executive Craig Boote couldn't be reached tonight. It's understood he's overseas.

One Greymouth local, who declined to be named, said he believed the missing men were aged in their thirties, and the skipper was understood to be a young father.

Describing the incident as 'tragic' Grey district mayor Tony Kokshoorn said the bar on the West Coast was notorious.

"We're very close knit here on the West Coast so everyone takes it pretty hard when we hear people may have drowned, so our hearts go out to the families."

Family of the missing were being supported tonight.

In a separate incident earlier in the day, an elderly man on a fishing charter in the Kaipara Harbour, north Auckland, died after a medical event.

He was understood to be on a fishing trip with a relative on a Kaipara Kat Fishing Charter when he fell overboard and suffered a heart attack.

He was pulled aboard but was declared dead shortly afterwards by attending paramedics.

Kaipara Kat staff were too upset to speak tonight and police have referred his death to the coroner.