Family suspends private search for missing yacht - Soundings Online

Family suspends private search for missing yacht

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The parents of Danielle Wright have suspended their private search for their daughter and other crewmembers aboard the 84-year-old schooner Niña, but families, friends and supporters continue to press the U.S. State Department to assist other efforts to find the seven people who were lost in a storm nine months ago on the Tasman Sea.

The historic schooner Nina was last heard from June 4, 370 miles off New Zealand's North Island.

Ricky and Robin Wright of Lafayette, La., who spent three months in Australia directing an air search for their 19-year-old daughter, said Feb. 18 that they were suspending the search and returning to the United States. However, they haven’t lost hope that their daughter and the rest of the crew will turn up alive.

“Ricky and I are wrapping up our visit to Australia and New Zealand in the next two weeks,” Robin Wright wrote on a Facebook page devoted to the search (www.facebook.com/ninarescue). “It’s hard to even think about coming home without Danielle, but we’ve done everything we know to do to search for Niña and seven very special people. We know they can survive whatever the Tasman throws at them with God’s hand of protection covering them.”

Danielle Wright

The couple spent $600,000 of their own money, money from fundraisers, their daughter’s college fund and money that friends and family loaned them to keep the search alive. Ricky Wright even earned a pilot’s license.

The U.S. government has acted as if the crewmembers are dead, says Tim Paynter, a Denver sailor, lawyer, writer and advocate for various causes.

A petition — at www.change.org, a platform for advocacy — has drawn 3,600 signatures. “It’s a respectable number, but we expected more,” Paynter says.

Addressed to Secretary of State John Kerry, it asks the State Department to:

• advocate for the seven missing people

• task the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to acquire and analyze satellite imagery of the appropriate areas to detect a small boat or life raft

• order the Coast Guard to allow Texas EquuSearch, a volunteer group that employs the best technology available to search for missing people, to access the agency’s search-and-rescue drift-modeling software, as it has for previous searches the group has done

Paynter says the State Department has taken the view that New Zealand’s Rescue Coordination Center, which did an air search for the wooden schooner — its largest ever — has terminated the search and that the crewmembers are dead. The air and sea search covered 737,000 nautical miles of ocean and shoreline without finding a trace of Niña — no life rafts, wood, sails, cushions, life jackets, no debris at all.

Paynter, however, says the New Zealand agency did not end its search. “The State Department has misinterpreted the suspension and mistaken it for closure,” he says.

The families have funded ongoing air searches of the area on the theory that Niña was disabled during a succession of vicious storms while sailing from Opua in New Zealand’s Bay of Islands to Newcastle, Australia, 1,500 miles away. They theorize that she got caught in reverse-circulating, counterclockwise currents — vortexes that spin north and west off the East Australia current — and has been riding a continuous loop, as disabled vessels sometimes do before they are spit out onto a beach in southeastern Australia.

The Coast Guard was willing to use its drift-modeling software to help with the search but said it needed clearance from the State Department, which Paynter says it has not gotten. And DigitalGlobe, a Longmont, Colo., provider of earth imagery sourced from five satellites, has provided images of the waters where Niña might be for crowdsourcing — analysis by 13,000 volunteers — but the images by law are not the highest resolution for national security reasons. The families have asked the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to acquire and analyze higher-resolution satellite imagery of the area for evidence of Niña or one of its life rafts, but “they’re not doing anything,” Paynter says. He says the families remain determined.

Niña, an historic racing boat and former New York Yacht Club flagship, was last heard from June 4, when she was 370 miles west-northwest of Cape Reinga, the northwesternmost tip of North Island, New Zealand. The missing include Niña’s owner of 25 years, David A. Dyche III, 58, a professional mariner; his 60-year-old wife, Rosemary; their son David, 17; Americans Kyle Jackson, 27, Evi Nemeth, 73, and Wright; and British citizen Matthew Wootton, 35.

David A. Dyche

The yacht was carrying a manually activated EPIRB, a Spot beacon — which the New Zealand rescue agency said also had to be activated manually to send regular track signals — a satellite phone, parachute flares and a VHF radio. However, the New Zealand agency did not receive a mayday via satellite phone or VHF, or a Spot or EPIRB alert, which strongly suggested to the agency that Niña sank quickly before the crew could react and call for help.

April 2014 issue