WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – A man clinging to the wreckage of a fishing boat in the dark let go and leap into the arms of a rescue swimmer in dramatic video shot from a New Zealand emergency helicopter after a boating accident in which five people died.
Rescuers and police divers found the fifth body in the water on Tuesday after the chartered boat carrying 10 people broke up in rough seas on Sunday evening.
Five people were rescued from the sea around midnight after clinging to different sections of the overturned wreckage for hours, and four bodies were later recovered during the day on Monday.
The video was shot from the Northland Rescue Helicopter around 12.30am Monday after the boat’s rescue beacon was activated more than four hours earlier off the remote North Cape.
Helicopter pilot Lance Donnelly told The Associated Press he wore night vision goggles as they drove to the scene with a team that included another pilot, a winch operator and a rescue swimmer.
He said it was the most spectacular rescue he had undertaken in 30 years of flying as they sailed through darkness and rough seas. They were unable to land anyone on the wreckage, but instead put a tethered swimmer in the sea nearby.
Donnelly said they first rescued three people who had boarded a large floating wreckage, then returned for two more about a mile away who were clinging to the overturned hull.
In the video, a lifeguard can be heard giving instructions.
“Permissions are good. At your discretion if you want to veer straight towards the target. At 40 feet, 35, 30,” he says as the lifeguard is winched into the sea. A man clinging to the wreckage leaps out and reaches out, and is grabbed by the lifeguard.
Donnelly said that in the dark they could not find the bodies of those who had died.
“I think that was probably one of the hardest things for our crew was that we had rescued five people and were wondering where the other five were,” he said.
Called the Enchanter, the 17-meter boat left the northern port of Mangonui on Thursday with two crew members and eight passengers on board for a planned five-day fishing trip to the remote Three Kings Islands.
RNZ media identified one of those who died as Mark Sanders, a 43-year-old builder and father of three. Sanders’ father, Graeme, said his son was a talented sportsman and an avid fisherman who had been looking forward to the fishing trip for two years.
“He was worried about the forecast for the last day or while he was fishing,” Graeme Sanders told RNZ. “He told me that before he left – ‘The forecast doesn’t look good, we might have to come back earlier. ‘”
The five people who were rescued were admitted to a local hospital and later discharged.
The captain of the Enchanter, who is believed to have survived the accident, could not be reached on Tuesday. The rental boat’s website says customers can catch swordfish, bass and trevally: “Hire fishing for the serious angler,” it says.