Submersible drone joins search for yachtie

November 25, 2011 - via The Southland Times

A navy team usually deployed to search for underwater mines will use a specialist submersible drone to try to find and retrieve the body of a missing Wanaka yachtie today. Trevor Hawke, 70, fell overboard while sailing an etchell on Lake Wanaka last Thursday. He was part of a two-man crew.

New Zealand navy senior communications adviser Lieutenant Commander Ange Barker said yesterday that a three-person mine countermeasures team was heading to Wanaka yesterday to join in the search.

The team would use the Remus 100 Autonomous Underwater Vehicle, which was designed to travel in a pre-programmed search pattern and could prove effective in trying to find the body, which is believed to be in up to 60 metres of water. The drone was used in the Tongan Princess Ashika ferry disaster, and had been used in searches for missing people before, Ms Barker said. A squad of four Wellington-based police divers were stood down from the search on Tuesday.

Mr Hawke was a founding and life member of the Wanaka Yacht Club. Club commodore Geoff Dickey yesterday confirmed that Mr Hawke was wearing a manually inflatable lifejacket that had to be activated by its wearer when he entered the water. Mr Hawke fell from the etchell when it lurched unexpectedly, and was conscious when he entered the lake, Mr Dickey said.

He could not comment on whether the lifejacket was not inflated or failed to inflate, and any conjecture on the matter would be dealt with by an inquest. However, Mr Hawke's sailing partner had done a superb job of trying to rescue his mate, Mr Dickey said.

"An etchell's about 30-foot long and has two very large, powerful sails, and the guy left on board by himself did an absolutely amazing job to get around and attempt to locate Mr Hawke three times – all while working the sails and steering in an absolute state of shock."

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