Seve people have been confirmed dead and another person remains missing after a fishing boat vanished in stormy weather at the entrance to a harbour near Auckland in New Zealand.
The boat, which was named Francie, had 11 people on board when it got into difficulties in Kaipara Harbour. While rescuers managed to pull three people from the water alive, seven people have died in the tragic accident and a search is continuing for one.
Coastguard New Zealand chief executive Patrick Holmes said that the crew onboard had told the coast guard that they were going to try to cross a sandbar at the entrance to the harbour. However, then the boat did not report back and could no longer be contacted after an hour, the coast guard raised the alarm.
The coast guard tried to contact other boats to see if they could get a visual on the boat, but to no avail. It is not clear exactly what happened, but an investigation is now under way.
Waves at the sandbar are understood to have been around 13 feet high at the time of the disapperance. Sandbars are formed as a result of sand building up on the sea floor; a phenomenom which is common at habour entrances where the ocean comes into contact with calmer water.
Mr Holmes explained: “All sandbar crossings are dangerous. They shift with storms and tides, so the bars are not in exactly the same position. Because it’s a disturbance of the seafloor, the action of the waves becomes distorted and irregular.”
According to witnesses, helicopter rescuers managed to pluck survivors from the water, bringing them down onto a nearby beach where local residents helped to keep them warm until paramedics arrived at the scene.
Police officers say they are still trying to determine exactly what happened to the boat and how its crew ended up in the harbor, which is about 75 kilometers (47 miles) northwest of Auckland.
Rescuers managed to recover five bodies from the sea soon after the tragic incident took place, while a further two bodies washed ashore at beaches close by. A search is continuing by air and sea for the missing person.
The Facebook page for Francie Charters says its boat Francie is licensed to carry up to 20 people with two crew members. It shows customers using fishing rods to catch snapper and other fish, and encountering dolphins.