Search paused for man who went overboard off coast at Waimārama, Hawke's Bay

FlightRadar24 shows two search and rescue helicopters off the coast of Waimārama.
FlightRadar24 shows two search and rescue helicopters off the coast of Waimārama. Photo credit: FlightRadar24 via RNZ.

By Soumya Bhamidipati for RNZ

Searchers looking for a man who went overboard from a fishing vessel faced improved conditions today, but have called the search off for the night.

The man was reported missing from commercial fishing vessel Pacific Challenger at 8.43pm on Monday, about 11 kilometres off the Waimārama coast in Hawke's Bay.

The Rescue Coordination Centre has been managing the search since last night - but in a statement said crews had been sent home at dusk.

"A sustained search effort was carried out today, however, just before nightfall the helicopters and vessels supporting it were sent back to shore," it said.

"A review will take place overnight, and it will inform further actions."

Earlier, Coastguard Hawke's Bay skipper Jo Wills spoke to RNZ from onboard a vessel involved in the search.

"Currently we're just out running some search patterns in the known area," she said.

"This morning when we started it was quite misty, a bit of rain. It's cleared up a lot, there's a long, gentle sort of swell happening out there. We've got pretty clear visibility, grey skies, but clear visibility which is helping with the search at least."

A mayday alert was being issued every half an hour to alert boaties about the missing person.

"We've seen a lot of sea life... unfortunately, that's all we've seen out here so far. It's just quite a large area out at sea, which always makes it hard."

The Pacific Challenger remained out on the water, with crew members helping with the search for their missing crewmate, she said.

The Rescue Coordination Centre, run by Maritime New Zealand, said it had called in rescue helicopters from Hastings, Gisborne, Auckland and Wellington to conduct searches over the water, and the Defence Force had also sent two NH90 helicopters.

"Three fishing vessels also responded to distress broadcasts and assisted. Coastguard Hawke's Bay provided a vessel to assist, and deployed a marker buoy to verify drift conditions in the water for search planning purposes."

The coordination centre had completed "extensive" drift modelling analysis and was continuing to assess conditions. It refused to comment on whether the search would continue overnight if the man was not found sooner, saying only that "the search is ongoing".

The aerial search had so far not resulted in any sightings either.

Hawke's Bay Rescue Helicopter Trust chief executive Andy Quayle said three rescue chopper crews were flying 500 metres above sea level, searching in a grid pattern.

"So that's trying to cover, very carefully, blocks of the ocean in an attempt to identify, in this case, the missing individual in the water," he said.

"We've got obviously three individuals in the crew - the pilot, the crewman and a paramedic - so all three are searching."

While the crew was equipped with night-vision goggles and, if needed, thermal imaging technology, Quayle said these were not as helpful during the daytime.

"A lot of what they're doing during the day, those types of tools aren't as useful, so it comes down to humans very carefully tracking, as I say, a grid search area in the hope to identify a missing individual."