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VIDEO: Hope fades for missing schooner

The disappearance of a classic wooden schooner off New Zealand with seven people on board, including an American family, continues to grip the cruising community.

Rescue authorities are hoping against hope that the 70-footer Nina will be found but fear it “probably had a catastrophic event.” The yacht left New Zealand May 29 and was en route to Australia. It has not been heard from in more than three weeks.

Rescue Coordination Center of New Zealand says the search area is the largest that it has ever covered, according to an NBC World News report. “The areas that have been searched have been absolutely massive,” SAR officer Neville Blakemore said. “The comprehensive search by the Orion [aircraft] the last couple of days has indicated that if the yacht was still afloat they would have seen it in the search area. So we are assuming that it's not in the search area and thus probably had a catastrophic event.”

Blakemore told The Associated Press that Nina probably sank in a storm but that rescue teams hoped that the crew had survived in a life raft, according to a report in The New York Times.

Click play for an Australian news report on the search.

RCCNZ organized two searches covering a combined area of 500,000 square nautical miles, according to an International Business Times report. On Friday, the authorities searched a third area, scouring the waters off northern New Zealand in case the crew had abandoned ship and were in a life raft, according to the report.

The 85-year-old schooner had departed from Opua, north of Auckland, and was bound for Newcastle, Australia, across the Tasman Sea. The people on board are identified as a Florida family — David A. Dyche, 58, his wife, Rosemary, 60, and their son, David, 17 — and American Evi Nemreth, 73. The three others aboard Nina are an 18-year-old American woman, a 28-year-old American man and a 35-year-old British man.

David Dyche, an experienced sailor, and his family had been sailing around the world for several years, home schooling their son, according to The New York Times report.

The crew was last heard from June 4 about 370 nautical miles west-northwest of Cape Reinga in northern New Zealand, Maritime New Zealand said. RCCNZ records show that conditions at her last known position on June 4 were winds of 50 mph, gusting to 68 mph, and swells to 26 feet, according to the International Business Times report.

RCCNZ began searching for Nina on June 14 amid concerns from family and friends. The yacht carried a satellite phone, an EPIRB and a tracking device that allowed her course to be transmitted manually, according to published reports. The EPIRB never activated.

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The cruising community has been active online regarding Nina’s disappearance. Dyche’s sister, identifying herself as “Friend of Nina,” began posting June 12 on the Cruisers Form, inquiring when it would be time to start worrying that the schooner hadn’t made port.

The dialogue has continued with posts about weather conditions as winter gets under way in the Southern Hemisphere, estimating the length of the passage, the condition of the yacht, the search and more.

Here is a sampling of the posts:

MarkJ, June 12
Whangarei, NZ to Newcastle Australia is 1215 NMs. If I was doing the trip my overdue date would be 27 days. For a [1928] schooner to sail it in 12 days would be a feat worthy of note in fact it would rival the fastest sailing ships of any era before the 1970s.

slipstreamcat, June 13
I live in Opua NZ where Nina left from … we have had some lows coming over from Aussie so nina would have had it on her nose not the best sailing. … Dont worry just yet my mate sailing to fiji allowed 8 10 days left same time he is still going with the weather we have had.

Friend of Nina, June 25
The NZ air and rescue have started search patterns for the Schooner Nina in the Orion. They already in to it flying 160,000 square miles north of NZ. So far no emergency signal. Looks like their batteries quit which means no electrics or starting the engine. Basic sailing now. I have to remember hope is our lifeline.

slipstreamcat, June 26
We are dealing with nature & a sailing boat in a big pond, she is a solid girl by all accounts. What my mate Ted & SARS worked out is about now for her, just hang in there people are very worried I know, we just have to be positive in our thoughts. SARS will do everything they can.

opusnz, June 27
It is not unusual to sail to Aus in June but it turns out there has been some really bad weather. The Tasman Sea is never easy. If you leave too early in the year you can get cyclones coming down from the tropics. If you leave too late you can get the winter storms.

Friend of Nina, June 27
RCC just called. … Will be looking for rafts or wreckage.