NZ Air Force crew get hero status in Samoa
The crew of an air force Orion has been given hero status in a small village in Samoa after it found four village fishermen clinging to the upturned hull of their semi-submerged boat during the weekend.

The four men had been in the water about 60 nautical miles south of Samoa for 24 hours when the Orion homed in on a rapidly weakening distress signal on Sunday and found them with only 10 minutes of daylight left.

By the time the Orion dropped a liferaft and survival gear to the men it was dark and the aircraft used its infrared detection equipment to confirm all four shipwrecked sailors had climbed into the raft on Sunday.

Flight Lieutenant Scott Williams, the captain of the Orion which found the four men, said today they were losing strength when they were found and may not have lasted another night trying to stay with their sunken boat.

Their boat, the Lady Leann, began sinking last Thursday and finally turned turtle on Saturday.

It floated just below the surface but the crew managed to activate an emergency beacon although the signal was very weak. Flt Lt Williams said the Orion searched for two hours before finding the men.

The Orion dropped an inflatable liferaft, food, water, first aid kit, strobe lighting, and a radio for communicating with searching aircraft and ships.

The fishermen were picked up soon after by another fishing boat, the Enterprise, and taken to the American Samoan capital Pago Pago.

Pago Pago harbour master and pilot, Captain Silila Patane, told NZPA the Orion crew had been described as heroes by Tagoilelagi Laloulu, a chief from the men's village of Vatia.

"They praised the service of the New Zealand air force, the Orion, and the fishing boat (Enterprise)."

He said the men were "very lucky and stupid" to go to sea in an unseaworthy boat and he would talk to authorities about prosecuting the owner.

"They should not have gone out fishing in boat in that condition. That is a no no.

"They were very fortunate to have the New Zealand Air Force aircraft fly over and pick up (the distress signal). They were very, very lucky.

"The Orion crew -- I also look at them as heroes for saving these guys."

He said the boat was typical of many small boats which go fishing from all parts of the islands.