Video has emerged of the aftermath of a collision involving a launch and a historic ferry in the Bay of Islands that seriously injured the ferry captain.
A passenger on the ferry says children were yelling and screaming, “Are we sinking? Are we sinking?” after the crash on April 13.
“We were looking for life jackets, but we could only find life rings which were too big for the children,” the passenger, who asked not to be identified, told the Herald.
“Passengers yelled at the [boatie] to help get people out of the water but mostly it’s the kids screaming.”
The passenger says her family is still traumatised by the crash and in her opinion claims the behaviour of the boatie on the Boston Whaler, which hit the ferry,was “careless and heartless”.
She claims it appeared to her that he was going “full throttle” and speeding directly towards the ferry with no one visible at the helm.
“After we were hit the launch was a fair distance from the ferry. We yelled at him to come back and help get people out of the water. Our kids were terrified. I want this guy to go down hard, he could’ve easily have killed us. He came back and got one person out of the water.”
The Herald has learned the boatie was James Thomson, a company director and the son-in-law of Geoffrey Ricketts, the former Heartland bank chair and philanthropist who died in March.
The Boston Whaler, the Onepoto, was registered at the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron under Ricketts’ name.
Laura Thomson told the Herald her husband was away and unavailable for comment. She said her husband had contacted ferry captain Bill Elliott and was cooperating with Maritime New Zealand and the Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC).
“We are not making any comment on that, he is not in the country,” Laura Thomson said. “It was an accident. There are two investigations going and my husband is cooperating with both.”
The crash happened about 11.50am on April 13 just minutes after the Waitere Ferry, also known as Blue Ferry, had just left Russell on its regular run to Paihia.
The portside and wheelhouse of the wooden ferry disintegrated on impact and sank just after 2pm.
Elliott, the 77-year-old captain, bore the brunt of the impact. He was airlifted to Middlemore Hospital’s spinal unit after he suffered severe spinal damage following a break in his neck. He later had a heart attack.
He is now back home in Russell and recovering from his injuries.
As the launch was about to hit the ferry, the passenger said her family were holding on to each other at the back.
‘We saw the boat coming towards us, and people screaming: “Get down”.
“I held on to one of the children as tight as I could and told him to hang onto my neck and waited for the hit because I knew it was coming. We were hit and bounced right up and came down. Luckily, we didn’t land in the water. The damage could have been way worse. In my opinion, he could easily have killed us.”
The police were told that one person had fallen overboard but was uninjured.
Among those who came to help the ferry captain and passengers was Rich De Rosa aboard parasailing boat Flying Kiwi Parasail.
De Rosa said he initially thought the launch, which had two 300 horsepower outboard motors, was assisting the ferry and did not realise it was involved in the collision.
“We arrived about seven minutes later. The side of the wheelhouse where the skipper was had collapsed. The driver didn’t appear injured in any way and was just standing on the boat on his phone. There was a girl on board.
“Bill was motionless and bleeding and had a head wound. Two doctors on my boat were eager to help Bill who couldn’t speak but was conscious,” De Rosa said.
De Rosa estimated the motorboat had to be travelling at least 30 knots – about 55km/h.
Passengers on the ferry told him they believed there was no one at the helm.
“I would like to know if the driver was at the helm or not, and what he was thinking. He’s not a skipper, he’s not a commercial operator and in my opinion, he clearly doesn’t have much experience. He was seen earlier in the day at Opua at speed in a no-wake zone.
“I think there should be a private boatie’s licence. People shouldn’t be allowed to be at the helm of the boat like that with so much horsepower, and not know the rules,” De Rosa said.
A Maritime New Zealand spokesperson declined to comment on the life jackets but said the authority was investigating, which included interviews, examining the scene, reviewing documents and gathering evidence.
“The skipper is legally responsible for the safety of the boat and passengers and for complying with the rules and regulations,” the spokesman said.
The authority said the investigation was ongoing and it would be premature to predict what future compliance action might be taken.
A spokesperson from TAIC said the inquiry was gathering evidence and would publish its findings in a report which could take up to two years.
The ferry passenger said she still had questions about how the crash happened.
“It was the most frightening day of my life and I have had a few frights but nothing like this. The kids haven’t been on a boat since.”