RNZAF on Kiribati search mission

2:53PM Friday Jul 17, 2009

A Royal New Zealand Air Force Orion is flying from Vanuatu to Kiribati today to help search for more than a dozen people missing after a ferry capsized.

The ferry toppled en route from Tarawa, the main island of the Kiribati group, to Maiana Island about midday Monday.

It was understood to be carrying 45 people, five of whom swam ashore and raised the alarm.

Seven people have been confirmed dead and 18 are still missing.

RNZAF squadron leader Kavae Tamariki said the New Zealand rescue co-ordination centre had received a formal request for help.

The Orion left Vanauatu, where it was on surveillance patrol, early this morning.

The RNZAF maintains a P-3K Orion and crew on 24 hour search and rescue call out 365 days of the year.