Weather threatens race, volunteers to the rescue

File photo.

Four Coastguard vessels, Coastguard Air Patrol and other rescue assets scrambled to assist when weather turns on the Manukau Harbour.

Last night at 1710 hours, the Coastguard Operations Centre received a call from a race organiser on the Manukau Harbour who had 110 kayakers, waka ama/outriggers and stand up paddleboarders involved in a large race from Weymouth to Cornwallis.

The wind had suddenly come up and conditions had become unfavourable, with the race organiser advising that the support vessels were having a difficult time ensuring the safety of all the participants and urgently requesting Coastguard assistance.

With the potential to become a major rescue operation, four Coastguard rescue vessels (Waiuku’s NZ Steel Rescue, Papakura Rescue One and Two, and Titirangi Rescue) along with the Auckland Airport Marine Rescue vessel and three members of the public aboard their own vessels were tasked to check on the well-being of all race participants, and retrieve them if they were struggling.

Coastguard Air Patrol and the Police Eagle helicopter also got airborne to assist in locating the scattered participants.

Auckland Maritime Police controlled the incident out of the Coastguard Operations Centre in Mechanics Bay.

At 6.30pm, the Auckland Maritime Police made the decision to call off the race. Any participants that were more than four miles from the finish line were to be picked up by a rescue vessel and returned to shore at Cornwallis.

Seven of the participants were taken aboard various rescue vessels, where they met at Cornwallis by race organisers and Police to check on their wellbeing.

Many of the participants were fatigued, although none needed urgent medical assistance. Coastguard Air Patrol continued to search the Papakura Channel and surrounding banks, as some of the participants had been blown off course.

Coastguard Operations Manager Ray Burge says, “It’s a good reminder for all boaties – no matter what type of vessel they use – to be personally prepared for any weather conditions. Taking and wearing lifejackets, carrying at least two forms of waterproof communication, and checking the weather regularly are all the bare minimum for getting out on the water, whether you’re out for a day of fishing or involved in a race.”

By 1903 all but one person had been retrieved or managed to finish the race, and all rescue assets focused on searching for the one outstanding person.

That race participant wasn’t confirmed safe until 1943 hours, when it was discovered he’d made his own way to shore.

The rescue assets were then all stood down, with the 25 Coastguard volunteers who were directly involved in the search and rescue spending a cumulative total of 58 hours on the water, in the air and behind a radio.

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