Otago Daily Times

Inquiry launched into Manukau drownings


AUCKLAND: The Transport Accident Investigat­ion Commission (TAIC) has launched an inquiry after three men died in a boating tragedy on Auckland’s Manukau Harbour on Saturday.

A TAIC team will be travelling to Auckland today. Its aims include recovering any wreckage of the boat and scouring any videos or photos of the incident.

A man (23) was airlifted to Auckland Hospital and three bodies were recovered after a boat overturned near the notoriousl­y dangerous Manukau Heads bar, on Saturday afternoon.

Police said the three victims were men aged 54, 61 and 70.

The fourth man is in a moderate condition.

Police are working with Maritime New Zealand to ‘‘understand the circumstan­ces leading to the deaths’’, and are making inquiries on behalf of the coroner.

The TAIC is appealing for witnesses who saw, photograph­ed or videoed the boating accident.

It is understood other boaties found three people dead in the water and rescued the fourth.

‘‘Getting the facts straight is vital, so we’re keen to hear as soon as possible from people who saw the accident or observed the boat at any time in its journey,’’ chief investigat­or of accidents Harald Hendel said.

‘‘Details of the boat involved are not known at this stage and this is where witness accounts may help, particular­ly if you have photograph­s or videos,’’ he said.

‘‘We’re interested in what people have to say, of course, particular­ly the survivor, but also what the families and friends of the crew knew about their plans for the trip.

‘‘We’re keen to find out more about the boat, its individual and type history, performanc­e, maintenanc­e, equipment and design.’’

One local man who saw the recovery operation unfold 100m from his boat said the capsized vessel was ‘‘in the worst place in the harbour to be’’ and he was glad an inquiry had been launched.

‘‘Some bigger boats that were already moored at Huia came out and gave [first responders] assistance,’’ he said.

He followed a larger boat as it took the bodies back to shore.

He said emergency services performed CPR but the men were pronounced dead.

The local man said he helped clean up life jackets and other wreckage from the boat.

‘‘If you’re going to pick a place where an accident was going to happen it was going to be that day on that bar.’’

The deaths have been described by Coastguard as the worst tragedy on that body of water in many years.

Chief executive Callum Gillespie urged Auckland boaties to be prepared, as hundreds of vessels — numbers matching peak summer levels — were seen out on the water on Saturday.

Five people have died on Manukau Harbour in the past week. A diver and kayaker have also lost their lives since alert level restrictio­ns eased in Auckland, allowing residents to participat­e in water sports.

‘‘Three people dead in a single event is one of the worst tragedies in Manukau Harbour in a number of years,’’ Mr Gillespie said.

Coastguard received more than 200 bar crossing reports from the Manukau Harbour on Saturday alone, but there was no report filed by the boat involved in the tragedy.

It was Coastguard’s own ‘‘Super Saturday’’, with more than 1700 trip reports and 29 incidents, Mr Gillespie said.

‘‘That’s a big day in the summer, never mind in October.’’

Most incidents were non lifethreat­ening, involving flat batteries, people running out of fuel and mechanical failures.

But they showed many were not prepared to head out on the water.

He urged boaties to remember to check the weather conditions, pack life jackets and two forms of communicat­ion, and to put in a trip report or bar crossing report with Coastguard. —The New Zealand

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