Update: Search abandoned: The families of the six Americans and one British sailor thought lost on a vintage schooner trying to cross the Tasman Sea are adamant that they may still be alive, now that an undelivered text message has been revealed - that it was NOT sent on the day it was received, and reveals that the yacht was under bare poles but proceeding satisfactorily.
There is also evidence that the yacht may be outside the search area, perhaps on Middleton Reef. This reef has been the site of many 'missing' sailors previously
In 1974 an amateur-built ferro-cement yacht, Sospan Fach, sailing from Auckland to Sydney ran into Middleton Reef.
The yacht with five people aboard had a toy compass and a lifeboat for one. Their trip had been planned on the basis that Australia was too big to miss. In the end they remained stranded on the reef for six weeks and were only accidentally spotted by a passing vessel.
In 1978 solo 67-year-old sailor 'Barnacle Bill' Belcher aboard Josephine II out of New Plymouth hit Middleton Reef and was wrecked.
The Royal Australian Air Force spotted the wreckage later but no sign of Belcher. He had taken to a life raft and drifted for 29 days before being picked up near Fraser Island in Queensland.
The father of an 18-year-old American girl aboard the schooner Nina believes the text message suggests the missing yacht is nearing the Australian coast.
Ricky Wright of Lafayette, Louisiana, has told a US news website that the yacht which his daughter Danielle is aboard is likely to be in an area away from where New Zealand's Rescue Co-ordination Centre (RCCNZ) has been looking.
He says that because of privacy laws, it took days for the US government to authorise the satellite-phone carrier to release the message.
The 21-metre Nina left Opua in the Bay of Islands for Newcastle, NSW, on May 29.
Mr Wright told US news website KATC that a satellite phone was used to send a text message to a meteorologist from Nina after it had passed through two storms in early June.
The message said the schooner had damaged sails from the high winds but was still making headway at four knots.
'My prediction is they are making three knots and the storm pushed them north of where they thought they would be,' Mr Wright told KATC.
'The main search area was south of where they are.'
He said there were two major storms two days apart, one a rainstorm and the other a wind event. The storms tore the boat's storm sails, limiting its ability to make speed and manoeuvre as it worked against the currents.
Mr Wright estimates the Nina is currently four or five days from making port in Australia.
Aboard the Nina, built in 1928, was David Dyche III, 58; his wife, Rosemary, 60; and their son David Dyche IV, 17; their friend Evi Nemeth, 73; Kyle Jackson, 27; Wright, 18, and Briton Matthew Wootton, 35.
The Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) is continuing to assess all available information in the search. Wednesday's radar search of more than 97,000 square nautical miles has been completed without any sighting of the vessel.
Nigel Clifford, Maritime New Zealand’s General Manager Safety and Response Services, said the position information was factored into search area calculations, along with other available information.
'As concern for the vessel increased, RCCNZ made further enquiries with Iridium about all transmissions made from the Nina’s satellite phone during the period of interest,' said Mr Clifford.
On 29 June it became known that the last transmission (a text message), on 4 June, had not been delivered to its intended recipient by the Iridium system. RCCNZ, working with the United States State Department, sought the release of the undelivered text message contents, which RCCNZ received on 3 July.
A copy of the text message follows:
from_unixtime(received_time): 2013-06-03 23:50:25
src_addr: [phone number]
short_message: THANKS STORM SAILS SHREDDED LAST NIGHT, NOW BARE POLES. GOINING 4KT 310DEG WILL UPDATE COURSE INFO @ 6PM
Mr Clifford said the contents of the text message were considered, along with all other information, as part of the planning for today’s search. 'The text message gives a clearer indication of the condition of the vessel on 4 June, and the weather that was being experienced at the time,' he said.
'The text message clearly indicates that the Nina was affected by the storm, but gives no indication of immediate distress.
'While it shows that Nina had survived the storm up to that point, very poor weather continued in the area for many hours and has been followed by other storms. The text message, in isolation, does not indicate what might have happened subsequently.
'However, the text message states that Nina’s course information would be updated in just over six hours’ time, at 6pm.
'There have been no further transmissions or messages from the Nina since the undelivered text message on 4 June. There were also no distress messages from either of the two distress alerting devices on board (EPIRB and Spot satellite personal tracker),' Mr Clifford said.
RCCNZ has discussed the details of the text message and other search information gathered to date with representatives of the family and friends of the crew.
Search and rescue officers at RCCNZ will evaluate all the information and decisions about the search operation will be considered overnight and tomorrow.
New Zealand’s Maritime Radio is continuing to conduct broadcasts in New Zealand’s search and rescue region, and Rescue Coordination Centre Australia (RCC Australia) is assisting with broadcasts on coastal radio.
There are seven people on board the schooner Nina, six Americans (three men aged 17, 28 and 58, and three women aged 18, 60 and 73) and a British man aged 35.
To date, the RCCNZ has coordinated eight searches, with an RNZAF P3K2 Orion aircraft completing extensive radar and observation searches of the Tasman Sea. Two other aerial shoreline searches have also been conducted (on 28 and 29 June) but no sign has been found of the vessel or its crew.
The schooner Nina, built in 1928, left Opua on 29 May and was last heard from on 4 June, when the vessel was about 370 nautical miles west-north-west of Cape Reinga. Records show that conditions at the vessel’s last known position were very rough, with winds of 80kmh gusting to 110kmh and swells of up to 8m.
The vessel is equipped with a satellite phone, a Spot satellite personal tracking device which allows regular tracking signals to be sent manually, and an emergency beacon. The emergency beacon has not been activated.
After concerns were raised by family and friends, the RCCNZ instigated a communications search on 14 June, using a range of communications methods to broadcast alerts to the vessel and others in the area. RCCNZ determined that the vessel should have arrived at its intended destination by 25 June, and aerial searches were instigated when it had not arrived by that date.
An RNZAF P3 Orion departed at 9am and searched an area of 97,000 square nautical miles extending as far west as the Middleton and Elizabeth reefs in the Tasman Sea.
An aerial search south of Norfolk Island, covering approximately 2,100 square nautical miles. The P3 Orion was airborne at 6am and searched until 4.30pm before returning to New Zealand.
An aerial search of approximately 3,780 square nautical miles north of North Cape. The P3 Orion arrived on scene at about 9.30am and continued searching until 6pm. Conditions in the search area were good, with excellent visibility.
An extensive aerial search of 4,830 square nautical miles north-east of Northland. The P3 Orion arrived at the search area at around 8am and conducted an aerial and radar search until approximately 4pm.
An extended shoreline search for the crew was undertaken for a second day without success. RCCNZ tasked a helicopter to perform a coastal search from Port Waikato to New Plymouth. The Tauranga-based Phillips Search and Rescue helicopter was on scene at around 11.45am.
A twin-engine fixed-wing aircraft was tasked to search the shoreline and coast, starting at Tauroa Point at 10.45am, along Ninety Mile Beach, north of Northland and out to and around Three Kings Islands. The search finished at 5pm.
A search was completed of 324,000 square nautical miles between northern New Zealand and the Australian coast, based on the vessel suffering damage but continuing to make progress towards Australia.
A search area of 140,000 square nautical miles was covered, to the immediate north-north-east of New Zealand, based on the vessel being disabled and drifting.