A boat carrying 11 people capsized in Goose Bay, near Kaikoura, killing five.photo/provided
A photography society has spoken of the “tragic loss” of its five members in a boating accident in Kaikoura.
The group’s boat capsized near Goose Bay yesterday.
“The New Zealand Nature Photography Society is saddened by the tragic loss of its members at sea in Kaikoura during a trip that took the lives of five of our members,” the group said on its Facebook page this morning.
“We do not yet know what caused the vessel to capsize and Maritime New Zealand will address this in due course.
“In the meantime, our hearts go out to the families of those members of society who lost their lives.”
Shortly after 10am on Saturday, an 8.5m boat, carrying 11 people, reportedly capsized in “perfect, flat” conditions after hitting a whale.
Police were unable to confirm that a whale caused the boat to overturn, saying it collided with “something”, but they are talking to some people to understand what happened.
Earlier in the day, however, Kaikoura Mayor Craig Michael said he believed the boat had hit the whale.
Six people were reported alive, including one with minor injuries.
Police told media at a news conference shortly after 5pm yesterday that they were taken to hospital before returning to their residence.
Sgt. Matt Boyce said police diving teams located the five people found dead on the boat.
“We are in the process of identifying these individuals and our next job is to notify their next of kin.”
He said it was an “unprecedented event” involving a significant response from emergency services and the public.
“This is a tragic incident and police are supporting those involved at this very difficult time,” Boyce said.
The passengers are believed to be members of a group of bird lovers who have hired a charter boat to tour areas of interest.
“I believe they come from all over the country,” Boyce said.
A local Kaikoura resident who was assisting at the scene said they knew a victim – with links to their son’s school.
She went to the shore to help find it.
“It’s not much, but it’s more than what I’ve added at home.
She said it was difficult to see clearly from the coast due to the large number of seals scattered over the rocks.
“It’s going to be a scary time for these families, and it’s going to be felt in our tight-knit community tonight and for years to come,” she said.
“We didn’t even lose five people in the 2016 earthquake.”
Police could not say who operated the charter flight. The captain went to hospital, but police believe he was uninjured.
The pilot of the first rescue helicopter at the scene said he did not see anyone in the water when he arrived.
Kaikoura pilot Daniel Stevenson said: “It’s a scary thing – it’s something you don’t want to see people in the water.”
Just before he arrived, a yacht arrived on the scene, picked up the first people overboard and brought them back to Kaikoura.
According to Stevenson, five people were rescued, with one remaining sitting on the hull upturn.
Soon after, the Coast Guard arrived. They jumped into the water but were unable to disembark and called for divers.
Stevenson flew back to Kaikoura, picked up a diver and circled next to the capsized boat.
“They jumped into the water from the helicopter to see if anyone was trapped inside the boat,” Stevenson said.
The mayor said it was a tragic event that affected many lives, especially all family members and loved ones.
“We extend our heartfelt sadness and condolences to all of you.”
Michael said he would like to thank everyone involved in the rescue and recovery.
“In this dire situation, being able to bring everyone home is the best outcome.”
The whales are resident and have been seen in the area, Mackle said.
He said the sea conditions at the time were “perfect and flat”.
When asked if the boat was overloaded, Michael said he couldn’t answer.
The Coast Guard responded by calling it a “tragic operation.”
“Our thoughts go out to the friends and family of the deceased,” the Coast Guard said.
Richard Hill of Cods and Crays Fish and Chips told RNZ he had previously worked with the captain on the ship.
“He’s a very safe guy, he couldn’t possibly take any risks.
”So there must be something, kind of like a freak of nature, I would think. It’s a very sad day for Kaikōura, really just a shock,” Hill said.
Maritime New Zealand chief investigator Tracy Phillips said the group had sent two investigators from Christchurch to Kaikoura.
“Any investigative activity will not begin until the rescue/recovery operation is complete. We will conduct a thorough investigation under the Work Health and Safety Act and the Maritime Transport Act, and we will do everything we can to support the New Zealand Police’s investigation.”
Kaikoura councillor Lisa Bond said the incident was “incredibly heartbreaking”.
The South Bay slipway was closed to the public when police responded.
A reporter on the shore of Goose Bay said that at 1:45 p.m. he could see three boats, two of which appeared to be Coast Guard vessels, and four helicopters near the capsized boat.
Three rescue helicopters were dispatched to the scene, one from Wellington and two Westpac from Christchurch.
An image on social media showed many people waiting to be rescued on the overturned boat.
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