Three yachties en route to Tonga rescued off Poor Knights Islands

Three men have been plucked to safety by a helicopter crew in Northland waters after the yacht they were in started taking on water.

The drama unfolded northeast of the Poor Knights Islands on Sunday morning. A beacon was activated at 6.27am and the Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Wellington alerted the Northland Rescue Helicopter and the Westpac Rescue Helicopter in Auckland.

A centre spokesperson said the initial alert was received by maritime and Coastguard radios. The yachties did not respond to broadcasts and subsequently activated their Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon (Epirb).

The Westpac helicopter’s departure was delayed due to fog in Auckland but was stood down 13 minutes into the flight and flew back to base.


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A Northland Rescue Helicopter crew of pilot-in-command Lance Donnelly, co-pilot Johs Van Pierce, winch operator Andrew Ferguson and rescue swimmer Dan Short arrived at the scene about 7.55am.

Donnelly said the yachties’ GPS location was advised as being 72 kilometres off the Tūtūkākā coast, and it took the helicopter crew about 30 minutes to reach said location.

“The yacht’s main sail had blown apart and they put up a jury rig. There were no two-way radio comms. They could hear us but we couldn’t hear them, so we had to communicate by hand signals.”

Swells were between five and six metres high. He said the three male yachties seemed to be in good spirits.


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“The winch swimmer was winched onto a life raft that was towed behind the yacht and the three people were transferred to the life raft and winched up,” Donnelly said.

They were flown to the helicopter base on Western Hills Dr in Whangārei, where a Hato Hone St John crew gave them a clean bill of health.

The yacht is now drifting. “They said the yacht had a hole and was taking on water. We managed to find them reasonably quickly for two reasons: they had a locator beacon and they set off a flare, which was handy,” Donnelly said.

He said the yachties told the helicopter crew they were en route to Tonga. It’s not known if they are locals.

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