NEW ZEALAND – Rescuers are holding out hope of finding six Americans and one Briton after their vintage sailboat went missing in early June off the coast of New Zealand.
After sweeping searches by a reconnaissance plane hundreds of miles out to sea came up empty, maritime authorities have shifted their sights to coastlines in the country’s northern shores and islands.
There, they are scouring beaches from the air, looking for the ship’s life raft or debris that may have floated ashore, if the ship broke apart.
The Nina, a historic wooden racing schooner built in 1928, went incommunicado on June 4, Maritime New Zealand said, having left port in Opua days before.
It was headed for Newcastle, Australia, when it encountered stormy seas.
“Records show that conditions at the last known position for the vessel, on 4 June, were very rough,” Maritime New Zealand said. Winds of 50 mph with gusts of 70 mph must have battered the Nina, while 26-foot waves tossed it about.
The sailing yacht is equipped with a tracking device, a satellite phone and an emergency buoy, which is meant to deploy automatically when a ship takes on water, but none of them have been heard from for more than three weeks, Maritime New Zealand said.
At the time of its last sign of life, the Nina was nearly 400 miles north-northwest of New Zealand in the Tasman Sea, Maritime New Zealand said.
Family members alerted maritime authorities in New Zealand in mid-June that the sailboat was missing.
For two days, a plane combed an area of ocean half the size of the Mediterranean Sea. Rescuers issued alerts to vessels in the area, asking for help in finding the Nina. None reported having seen her.
“While we have grave concerns for the crew on board Nina, we have not given up hope of finding survivors,” said mission controller Neville Blakemore.
Three observers began searching New Zealand’s beaches from a twin-engine propeller plane at 10:45 a.m. local time Friday (6:45 p.m. ET Thursday).
They have yet to see any sign of the ship or its crew.