Kaipara Harbour tragedy: Search to resume

The boat Francie (Supplied)
The boat Francie (Supplied)

The skipper of a boat that capsized in the Kaipara Harbour is believed to be among the seven killed in the incident.

The boat, reported to be the Francie, a 12m steel launch used for fishing charters, got into trouble while trying to cross the bar.

Police, the Coastguard, St John Ambulance, Surf Life Saving staff, rescue helicopters and a fixed-wing plane conducted an extensive search on Saturday after the boat was reported overdue at 3:30pm.

Search teams battled waves up to four metres as they rescued three people and recovered five bodies from the harbour, north of Auckland, on Saturday evening.

On Sunday morning police said the bodies of two more men had been found overnight.

One was found on the shoreline at 1am, north of Muriwai Beach, while the second was found an hour later near Woodhill Forest.

Police say the bodies are being formally identified and the next of kin are being contacted, while they continue to search for one person still missing.

Two investigators from the Transport Accident Investigation Commission are also expected to shortly head out to the scene.

The three survivors were taken to hospital, and have all since been discharged.

Francie Charters says on its Facebook page it's one of only a handful of charter boat operators on the harbour and its vessel has a licence to carry up to 20 people with two crew, though it comfortably carries about 16.

Kaipara Cruising Club committee member Mark Tuuta said the vessel's captain, Bill McNatty was among the dead.

"We're all gutted," he told NZ Newswire.

"He was up there with one of the best. He just made a mistake."

Barry Beaton, a local, told Newshub while it was not an accident waiting to happen, you need to be wary of the conditions in the area.

"We're always wary of the weather - if you go over the bar, you've gotta know what you're doing. But all the charter skippers know what they're doing.

"The weather conditions change out there so fast - when we go out in our little boat we always watch the wind [and] the clouds - and you come back when you've got to come back."

According to the MetService, there were one-metre swells and wind gusts of up to 50km/h in the harbour in the afternoon.

The air search was put on hold in the evening due to poor weather conditions, while shoreline searches around South Head and Te Oneone Rangatira Beach continued late into the night.

Coastguard Rescue Vessel Skipper Iain Guilford described the sea conditions as "trying" with huge standing waves in excess of four metres. 

Mr Guilford says coastguard training was brought to the fore in challenging circumstances. 

“It’s never easy being part of an incident where you can’t bring people home to their families. Our thoughts are with everyone involved.”   

The process of identifying the victims and advising the next of kin is currently underway.

NZN / Newshub.