Rescue teams search for 3 men missing from empty yacht PRINT FRIENDLY EMAIL STORY
PM - Friday, 20 April , 2007 18:34:00
Reporter: Kathryn Roberts
PETER CAVE: It's a mystery that's left the Queensland search and rescue teams puzzled.
A yacht has been found drifting in waters off Townsville, minus its three crewmembers.
The empty yacht was spotted by Coastwatch on Wednesday.
When searchers went to investigate, they found food on the table, computers running and the radio on, but there was no sign of the crew.
A massive air and sea search is continuing to try to find the three Western Australian men.
Police are also analysing GPS data to determine the yacht's route over the past few days, so they can narrow down the search.
From Queensland, Kathryn Roberts reports.
(Sound of men talking over two-way radio)
MAN 1: ... are well clear, you're clear out to the right, you've got the boat visual.
MAN 2: I have the both visual. Unfortunately, it is swinging around.
MAN 1: Understood. (inaudible) halfway out now.
KATHRYN ROBERTS: Late yesterday the search and rescue helicopter winched a man down to the drifting yacht.
MAN 1: He's going up the water now. He's swimming.
KATHRYN ROBERTS: An ABC documentary team just happened to be making a film about the chopper service when the call came in to investigate a catamaran seen drifting aimlessly off the coast of Townsville.
The director of that series, Jan Cattoni, says it was a nervous wait while the searcher boarded the 10-metre yacht.
JAN CATTONI: Well, I think everyone in the helicopter, including the cameraman who was filming, was really waiting I guess in anticipation to see, you know, what was going to happen.
There were some concerns about the safety of the rescue crew officer, because he was boarding a vessel on his own.
So I guess everyone was waiting and hoping that he came up safely because, you know, there was no sense of what he might find below deck.
KATHRYN ROBERTS: Once onboard the Kaz II, the mystery only deepened, as John Hall from Emergency Management Queensland explains.
JOHN HALL: There was no sign of the three crewmembers believed to be onboard. All of the emergency equipment was functioning, the computers onboard the radio onboard, the GPS unit. They said it was a little eerie actually, because all of the personal effects of crew were still there. There were sunglasses on the table and a laptop set up and running, and there was even food on the table which had obviously been prepared for a meal
Our crew actually returned to the yacht at 5am today and they did a thorough search. We managed to drop two of our crewmen down and they searched the yacht, and they actually found the three lifejackets, the emergency beacon, and the dingy were actually all still onboard, as was all the emergency equipment, which was fully functioning.
KATHRYN ROBERTS: The only sign of trouble was a shredded sail. The sail was up and the engine was running.
It's not clear how long the yacht had been abandoned or how the men simply vanished. What is known is that three Western Australian men set off from Airlie Beach on Sunday and were planning to stop in Townsville on their way to Western Australia.
The missing men are 56, 63 and 69 years old.
John Hall says the rescue helicopter returned to the boat this morning to recover the GPS data.
JOHN HALL: And what they're hoping to do is to look at the information which was recorded on that and figure out exactly the route this boat has taken since it left Airlie Beach on the 15th, and they're hoping by stepping backwards they might be able to notice anything out of ordinary or anything amiss, and be able to narrow down the search area to find the three missing crewmembers.
KATHRYN ROBERTS: The helicopter's chief pilot, Trevor Wilson, has described the scene as eerie.
TREVOR WILSON: The mystery of the whole episode is how good a condition everything is on the vessel. If people had been thrown overboard I guess during high seas or a storm, you wouldn't expect all of the computers to be sitting on and running, a number of lights running, all utensils and charts and maps all on the tables, a lot of personal property. It's almost like someone has just stepped off the boat.
KATHRYN ROBERTS: Water police are now leading a massive search effort involving 12 aircraft and four rescue boats, covering a huge area spanning the Whitsundays to Townsville.
Police Chief Superintendent Roy Wall says the men could've been missing for three days or more.
ROY WALL: Well, we're obviously very, very hopeful that we will find them. Unfortunately, as time goes on our hopes diminish a little, but at this stage of the game, it's still only early days. There's a lot of aircraft out there with a lot of first-class equipment onboard, so we're still hopeful that we will locate them.
KATHRYN ROBERTS: The Kaz II will be brought back to Townsville tonight.
Relatives of the men are expected to arrive in North Queensland this evening.
PETER CAVE: Kathryn Robertshttp://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2007/s1903065.htm