RNZAF crew find missing fishermen

10:17AM Wednesday Aug 12, 2009

Three Kiribati fishermen are back on dry land, safe and well after spending three days at sea aboard their 4.5m open fishing boat.

It took an RNZAF Orion's radar just two hours to find the boat when it arrived in the area, about 4000km north of New Zealand, yesterday afternoon.

It spotted the three men waving from their boat about 3pm and dropped a radio and supplies.

A police launch was able to reach the fishermen about 6pm and take them back to land. They were about 12.5 nautical miles east of Tarawa Atoll, NZ Rescue Coordination Centre spokeswoman Sophie Hazelhurst said.

It appeared there was a mechanical fault with the boat's outboard motor as it was out of the water with its cover off and the propeller missing or damaged, when the Orion crew spotted it, she said.

The Orion was searching an area of about 7500 square nautical miles, or 25,000 sq/km, and to find the men in two hours was "a really good result", Ms Hazelhurst said.

The boat left Tarawa Atoll about 3am Saturday morning on a fishing trip and did not return to Tarawa later that morning as scheduled

The Rescue Coordination Centre Fiji asked New Zealand for airborne surveillance to help the local navy patrol vessel in its search.

It was the fourth international callout for the air force in 10 days.