Trial begins for Enchanter skipper Lance Goodhew after loss of five lives off North Cape

The Northland skipper at the helm of the ill-fated Enchanter fishing charter that capsized, killing five Waikato men has gone on trial in the Whangarei District Court.

It's two years since eight Waikato fathers set off on a five day "bucket list trip" to the Three Kings Islands, big game fishing with Mangōnui-based Enchanter Fishing Charters in March 2022. 

A rogue wave, survivor Shay Ward described as "easily ten metres" hit the 16 metre Enchanter near Murimotu island on the journey home round North Cape. 

Geoffrey Allen, 72, from Cambridge and his son-in-law Mark "Skid" Walker died. Publican Richard Bright, 63, Mike Lovett, 72, and Te Awamutu's Mark Sanders, 43, also perished at sea. 

In opening skipper Lance Goodhew's trial, Judge Rzepecky acknowledged the victims and their families, some of whom have travelled to Whangarei to attend the trial. 

The 59-year-old is charged with breaching his duties as a worker on the vessel, allegedly exposing individuals to a risk of death or serious injury. 

The charge carries a fine of up to $150,000. 

As described in the documentary Newshub Investigates: The Enchanter Tragedy, the Enchanter was struck at 7:50pm on Sunday March 20 separating the hull from the superstructure, and catapulting the eight clients, skipper and deckhand into the water. 

The fatal event off North Cape sparked one of the largest search and rescue operations ever coordinated by Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ). 

It took almost five hours for all survivors to be picked up by the Northern Rescue helicopter crew who eventually had to stop searching due to a lack of fuel in the Far North. 

Prosecutor Sam McMullan told the court "This case is about the duty of care Mr Goodhue owed his passengers." 

He said Maritime NZ in bringing the charges, argues the Enchanter should never have been where it was, "in near darkness, close to the shore meant he further encountered likelihood of a large wave." 

The group of charter clients including survivors Shay Ward, Ben Stinson and Jayde Cook left Mangōnui on March 17, at the time Goodhew talked about the weather on board with Te Awamutu father of three Mark Sanders. 

A front with 30 knot winds was predicted by the weekend. 

"It is not the prosecution case that he did not check the weather, it's clear that he did... but if one receives a forecast for severe weather that ought to raise concern," McMullan said. 

Lance Goodhew.
Lance Goodhew. Photo credit: Newshub

The group enjoyed three good days fishing, before the weather turned Saturday evening. In Goodhew's own words it became "sloppy, gnarly and scruffy." 

"The plan was they would stay under anchor in the morning as the weather was going to be too bad first thing... then journey to the Princess Islands before heading back after the front had passed through." 

Goodhew's evidence is that the worst of the weather had passed by 1:30pm on Sunday March 20, when the group began the journey home in 20-25 knot winds and two-metre swells. 

But McMullan told the court "A reasonable, careful mariner would have cause for concern that the sea would still be encountering the effects of that significant front that'd passed through." 

In his opening statement, Goodhew's lawyer Fletcher Pilditch said his client knew everything he could know about the weather at the time. 

"He was checking the conditions, checking the weather and had all the information available to all mariners... not scientists at a later point in time," Pilditch said.

"It's one thing to say sometimes very large waves happen in the ocean...but it's quite another thing to say you can predict where and when." 

Fourteen witnesses including survivors Ward, Stinson and Cook will be called during the three-week trial.