‘I knew where they’d be’: How whānau found Gisborne fishermen

By 1news.co.nz and is republished with permission

The uncle of one of the deceased fishermen found near Māhia on Wednesday morning has told Breakfast how he knew where they would be.

Taina Sinoti

Meanwhile, a veteran Coastguard skipper described treacherous and harrowing conditions that faced anybody in the water on Tuesday night, including rescue boats.

Police yesterday named the trio who were found deceased on the Māhia coastline as 37-year-old Elwood Higgins of Gisborne, 33-year-old Taina Sinoti of Te Hapara, and 38-year-old Damien Macpherson of Te Karaka.

The men failed to return to Gisborne from a fishing trip as planned on Monday afternoon, and two were sighted briefly in high seas by a freighter, before their bodies were recovered on Wednesday morning.

Jack Higgins, uncle to Elwood Higgins, said he made the trip to Tairāwhiti when he heard the news about his nephew going missing.

He said the Tairāwhiti Trust helped the families of the three set up a base, as they were waiting at the wharf for news.

Police gave consistent updates and Higgins was told, despite having a boat, he could not go out due to the dangerous conditions.

On one occasion, Higgins said the Rescue Coordination Centre explained to the families about its tracking process which involved looking at the ocean currents to see where the men would most likely be.

He said he “kept” the information in his head, and members of the families went to Māhia to try and find their missing whānau late one evening.

“Me and my nephews and my son-in-law, who was really close to Elwood, we had enough of sitting around on Tuesday night. At 11pm we decided to go to Māhia and search ourselves.

“I knew where they would be.”

Higgins said after he and his whānau found his nephew’s body at 2am on Wednesday, his heart dropped.

“Damien’s whānau were searching as well, and pretty much at the same time, around 800 metres around another bay, they found Damien as well.”

Coastguard skipper describes treacherous conditions

Coastguard skipper speaks after Gisborne fishermen tragedy

Rough conditions at sea and nightfall put the rescue crew in danger.

Despite their best efforts, a Coastguard team was forced to abandon their search due to dangerous sea conditions, leaving them devastated that they couldn’t save the men.

“We’re really sorry. We honestly gave it a really good shot but, it was just too much,” said Henry Van Tuel, a veteran Coastguard skipper with 15 years of experience.

He described the harrowing conditions faced by anyone in the water.

The rescue attempt on Tuesday evening saw the crews battling wind gusts of up to 30 knots and swells reaching four metres. As the situation deteriorated, the skipper made the difficult decision to abandon the search for his crew members’ safety.

“We got knocked around in the cabin a couple of times,” he recalled.

“Even coming home I had to change the direction of the boat several times, cause we were just being slammed. We were taking water over the top of the boat, into the engine intakes and stuff like that. We took a lot of water onboard.”

He added: “This is the first time I’ve not been able to finish a job.

“That’s the reason people join Coast Guard is to help, you know, to assist people and it is really hard when you know you just can’t do it.”

Givealittle pages have been set up to help support the families of the three.

Elwood Higgins

Taina Sinoti

Damien Macpherson

Support can also be provided via the Gisborne Tatapouri Sports Fishing Club.

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