Orion finds drifting fishing boat

A New Zealand aircraft found a Tauranga-registered fishing boat adrift in the Pacific with at least six people on board.

The RNZAF Orion was on a routine patrol near Tonga yesterday when it picked up a signal from a distress beacon.

The aircraft combed the sea with radar and visual searches until the crew spotted the 19m trawler Paragon 3259 drifting about 180km northwest of Tonga at 2pm NZ time.

Six people on the boat signalled with smoke markers and flares.

Flight Lieutenant Glenn Gowthorpe said the Orion crew tried to radio the vessel, but were apparently unable to make contact.

The Orion landed in Tonga to refuel, then flew back to the boat at 6pm.

A Tongan fishing vessel, the Southwind, reached the Paragon last night and said its crew were fine.

No 5 Squadron commanding officer Wing Commander Carl Nixon said he was "justifiably proud" of the aircrew. It was the second successful search in a week by an Orion, after Chris Sayer's yacht Up the Blue capsized north of New Zealand last Monday.