Fears grow for missing US yacht
Searchers say they are gravely concerned for the seven-strong crew of an American yacht which has gone missing on a voyage from New Zealand to Australia. It is more than three weeks since their last message.
A New Zealand meteorologist took the last known calls from the seven people aboard: "The weather's turned nasty, how do we get away from it?"
The phone calls and texts from the crew - six Americans and a Briton - ended on June 4. Attempts to contact the crew of the classic 85-year-old wooden vessel by radio and an aerial search this week have proved fruitless.
Authorities say the skipper of the 70-ft (21-metre) vessel Nina is David Dyche. There are two other men and three women aboard, aged between 17 and 73. Also aboard is a British man, aged 35.
Meteorologist Bob McDavitt said he took a satellite phone call from the boat on June 3. A woman named Evi asked how to get away from the weather. He said to call back in 30 minutes after he'd studied a forecast. She did. "She was quite controlled in her voice, it sounded like everything was under control," Mr McDavitt said, adding that the call itself indicated she was concerned about the conditions.
He spoke only briefly to Evi, advising her to head south and to brace for a storm with strong winds and high seas. The next day he got a text, the last known communication from the boat: "ANY UPDATE 4 NINA? ... EVI"
Mr McDavitt said he advised the crew to stay put and ride out the storm another day. He continued sending messages the next few days but didn't hear back. Friends of the crew got in touch with him soon after that, and then alerted authorities on June 14.
Kevin Banaghan, who is spearheading search efforts by Maritime New Zealand's Rescue Coordination Centre, said rescuers weren't worried at first because there had been no distress call from the boat and its emergency locator beacon had not been activated.
He said rescuers on June 14 initiated a communications search, in which they tried contacting the boat over various radio frequencies as well as contacting other vessels in the area to see if they'd spotted the Nina.
This week, he said, rescuers escalated their efforts. An Air Force plane on Tuesday searched the area where the boat went missing. A second search by the plane yesterday went as far as the Australian coast but again turned up nothing. Searchers are considering their next options.