Fuzzy satellite images of what could be a vessel have given new hope to the families of seven crewmembers who went missing when the 84-year-old U.S.-flagged staysail schooner Niña disappeared in June on a stormy Tasman Sea.
The images, captured Sept. 15 about 184 nautical miles west of Norfolk Island, were culled by search-and-rescue volunteers who have been perusing thousands of satellite images for signs of the fabled 50-foot ocean racer or one of its life rafts.
"We have never lost hope that the crew of Niña is alive and well and that they will be rescued, but seeing that boat image is very exciting,” Robin Wright, the mother of 19-year-old Danielle Wright, of Lafayette, La., told the New Zealand Herald.
Click play for an ABC News report on the findings.
No trace of Niña, life rafts or bodies were found despite an exhaustive air search of 737,000 square nautical miles of ocean and stretches of the North Island shoreline — one of the largest searches ever by New Zealand’s Rescue Coordination Center.
Wright and families of other Niña crewmembers are pressing the coordination center to resume the search, but Nigel Clifford, Maritime New Zealand’s manager for safety and response, told the Herald he needed a better-quality image to resume the search.
The families reportedly have spent more than $100,000 on private aerial searches, which cost more than $20,000 a day, and have enlisted the volunteer search-and-rescue organization Texas Equusearch to mobilize volunteers to pore over thousands of satellite images.
"[Authorities] have never said that the Nina has definitely sunk," said Briton Ian Wootton, who lost his 35-year-old son Matthew on Niña. "On the other hand ... we feel they are not going to be convinced by a satellite photo until they can see seven people holding their passports up with their date of birth clearly visible. It seems a bit like that.”
Niña, a famous wooden racer and once the flagship of the New York Yacht Club, disappeared with its 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; 18, and British citizen Wootton.
Niña departed Opua in the Bay of Islands on New Zealand’s North Island on May 29, bound for Newcastle, Australia, 1,500 miles away — an eight- to 10-day voyage. She was last heard from June 4, when she was 370 miles west-northwest of Cape Reinga, the northwesternmost tip of North Island. The rescue coordination center reported 26-foot seas and 50-mph winds gusting to 70 in the vicinity that day as the first of a string of brutal winter lows marched through the Tasman Sea in early June.
Among the yacht’s equipment was a manual EPIRB, a Spot beacon, which RCCNZ said also had to be activated manually to send regular track signals, a satellite phone, parachute flares and a VHF radio. However, the RCC did not receive a mayday via satellite phone or VHF, or a Spot or EPIRB signal, which strongly suggested that Niña sank quickly before the crew could react. The search began June 12 at the urging of family and friends, who reported the schooner overdue.