Bodies of three missing Gisborne fishermen found

Three bodies believed to be those of the missing fishers have been found on the shore at Māhia this morning.

RNZ understands the fishermen who died are Elwood Higgins, Damien Macpherson and Taina Sinoti.

Police said formal identification was under way but the bodies were believed to be of the fishers who were reported missing on Monday.

“Police’s thoughts are with their families at this difficult time.”

Tatapouri Fishing Club president Roger Faber was also out fishing on Monday and spoke to the missing fishers.

He said they were lured by some nice blue fin tuna, which was caught off Gisborne over the weekend, and a weather forecast that was meant to improve.

“We all communicated with each other as we went out and talked about our plans for the day.

“Unfortunately the weather was nothing like forecast, we expected it to get better, it didn’t get better, it got worse,” Faber told Morning Report.

He said when he pulled back at 11am because of the weather, they tried to contact the missing boat but could not.

“At the time, we didn’t think too much of it, we thought ‘oh well, hopefully they’ve just decided to go in earlier too’.

“But then when we returned to the boat ramp and saw that their trailer was still there, that’s when our concerns rose and we sounded the alarm.”

Hearing the bodies had been found, Faber said it was a “terrible day”.

The men, particularly the skipper, were experienced and well-respected club members, he said.

“The whole community is suffering … and whānau and friends will be really suffering.”

Rescuers went to their limits

Maritime New Zealand Rescue Coordination Centre general manager Justin Allan said rescuers went to their limits trying to find the three fishers.

The search and rescue operation was difficult and complex, he said.

“Weather conditions in the area were severe … Responders from the region, as well as rescue aircraft sourced from across the North Island had to battle atrocious conditions; including swells of up to and at times more than six metres, 50 knot winds and low visibility, showing how determined they were to reach the men in the water.”

The conditions were just too severe, Allan said.

He extended his thoughts to the families and thanked everyone involved in the search efforts.

Community in mourning

Gisborne mayor Rehette Stoltz told Morning Report the news the bodies had been found was heartbreaking.

“Our community is in mourning.”

She said her love and thoughts were with the families.

“Everyone is waking up to this news and our community is right behind them.

“We have put a call out there just to ask everyone give these families some space and let them bring their men home, and then when they are ready, as a community, we can lean in and look after them.”

Stoltz said the region was experiencing some of the worst weather it had seen, which made the search difficult.

There had been an outpouring of grief this morning and a number of beautiful tributes on social media, she said.

The search

The search and rescue operation was suspended at 7pm Tuesday and had been due to resume today.

The boat carrying the three missing fishers was reported overdue on Monday afternoon.

The bulk carrier ship – the African Tiger – spotted two men in rough seas off Māhia Peninsula on Tuesday but could not reach them. Those on board threw life rings and flotsam into the water.

The Defence Force’s P8 Poseidon also dropped a life raft in the same area.

Maritime New Zealand suspended the search shortly after 7pm Tuesday.

Eastland Helicopter Rescue Trust chairperson Patrick Willock said searchers looking for the missing crew in horrendous conditions yesterday were nothing short of heroic.

A helicopter from the trust had been helping with the search.

Willock said the missing people were well known in local hunting and fishing circles. He knew two of the missing men through family connections, he said.

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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