Grave 'fear' for 7 missing in yacht off NZ

2013-06-27 10:02

Wellington - New Zealand rescue authorities expressed "grave" fears on Thursday for six Americans and a Briton whose historic yacht has been missing for more than three weeks.

The 21m wooden schooner Nina, build in 1928, set off from the North Island bound for Newcastle, Australia, on 29 May but has not been heard from since 4 June, the Rescue Co-ordination Centre New Zealand said.

Rescue co-ordinator Kevin Banaghan said friends and relatives raised concerns on 14 June and all attempts to contact the vessel had failed.

He said the yacht had a satellite phone, a tracking beacon and an emergency beacon, which had not been activated.

A New Zealand air force Orion conducted extensive searches off the waters between the North Island and the Australian coast this week.

"Unfortunately, no sign of the vessel has been found," Banaghan said, adding that conditions were "very rough" when it went missing, with winds gusting at 110km/h and swells of 8m.

"We do hold grave concerns for the Nina and her crew but remain hopeful of a positive outcome."

He said the missing crew comprised six Americans - three men aged 17, 28 and 58, and three women aged 18, 60 and 73 - and a 35-year-old British man.

The yacht's last known position was 370 nautical miles off the New Zealand coast.

"No sign of the vessel has been reported by any other vessel in the area since 4 June," Banaghan said, adding that New Zealand and Australian rescuers were co-ordinating on the search.

Rough weather

While the rescue centre did not name anyone aboard the yacht, the Northern Advocate newspaper reported earlier this year that the Nina had participated in a local regatta and was owned by an American named David Dyche III.

It said Dyche, his wife Rosemary and son David, aged 17, left Florida in 2008 to circumnavigate the world, travelling through the Bahamas, Jamaica, Columbia, Panama, Costa Rica and French Polynesia before arriving in New Zealand.

A Facebook profile in the name of David Dyche III has pictures of the Nina and a post from 21 apparently referring to the upcoming voyage to Australia with his son.

"Dave is leaving and going to college in the States in July. This is our last trip together crossing the Tasman Sea," it reads.

On 26 May, he said he expected rough weather, posting: “The Tasman Sea is shooting gales out like a machine gun, living up to its reputation”.

"We are shooting at leaving out after the first one this week. No doubt we will be dancing with one or two of them."

The Nina is well known in yachting circles and in 1928 was the first US vessel to win Britain's famous Fastnet race, according to an entry on the website by Rosemary Dyche.

In it, she says the schooner was the flagship of the New York Yacht Club after World War II and her husband bought it in 1988, describing its restoration as "a labour of love".