Orion finds Fiji castaways

Crew-members from the grounded Balueiro Terceiro wait to be picked up on the islet of Tudana i Ra.
Language proved the biggest barrier for an Air Force Orion crew who co-ordinated the rescue of 16 people from a Spanish fishing boat that ran aground on a small island near Fiji.

The Orion left Whenuapai Air Base in Auckland at 11.30am on Sunday after the National Rescue Co-ordination Centre received a call from Madrid to say the ship had hit a reef 415km from Suva the day before.

The Spanish agriculture ministry said the crew of the Balueiro Terceiro were shipwrecked on the islet of Tudana i Ra, one of the many atolls and islets in the area.

The Orion's crew spotted the fishermen just over three hours after taking off and dropped fresh water and a radio.

"It was quite hard to talk with them because of the language barrier, but we soon determined that everyone was well and accounted for," said Pilot Officer Leon Fox, the Orion's navigator.

The Air Force crew co-ordinated the arrival of three rescue vessels.

The multinational fishing boat crew were yesterday on board another Spanish vessel and were expected to arrive in Suva today.

Spanish authorities said they were all in good shape.