Air Force Orion's chance encounter saves 18 lives

Tuvalu's location.
Tuvalu's location. Photo credit: Google Maps

Eighteen crew on a Chinese fishing ship which caught fire are all safe thanks to a chance encounter with a New Zealand Air Force Orion.

The aircraft raised the alarm after noticing the vessel, the Jin Xiang 6, in distress about 740km west of Tuvalu on Friday.

They were on a routine patrol of the Pacific at the time, and organised a ship to assist the stricken vessel, rescuing 17 of the 18 people from the fire on board. More than a day later they located and rescued a final missing person who had gone overboard.

Air Commodore Tim Walshe the discovery was remarkable.

"They found the individual who was clinging to some buoys near to where the vessel actually was. But when you're looking for one person in the Pacific Ocean it's quite a job, so we're pretty happy with the outcome."

The Pacific ocean covers 162 million square kilometres - about a third of the world's entire surface.

Walshe praised the Orion crew for their response.

"To find that one person at the end of a couple of days of searching, after we've had success recovering 17 people before, to actually get the 18th person is tremendous."

The ship had been in trouble for 36 hours before it was spotted.

"Nobody actually knew this vessel was distressed in the first instance. They were just fortunate our aircraft - in the entire Pacific Ocean, which is a very large area - happened to come by on the day."

The Jin Xiang 6 is a 34m vessel built in 2014, and is owned by Huanqiu Tuna Fishing (Dalian).