Search begins for missing trimaran

Nelson woman Verona Hunt and her Australian partner, Gary Cull, are missing aboard their 12.5m trimaran Manoah.
By Anne Beston
An Air Force crew will begin searching today for a couple who could have been drifting on their disabled yacht for almost a month somewhere between New Zealand and Rarotonga.

On Tuesday, rescue authorities said they would not send the Orion crew to find Nelson woman Verona Hunt and her Australian partner, Gary Cull, on their 12.5m trimaran Manoah because they believed the couple were not overdue.

But yesterday, Rescue Co-ordination Centre New Zealand spokeswoman Heidi Brook said there were now grave fears for the couple's safety.

"We have got to the stage now where there has been no information from them or information of them and we have reason to believe they are in difficulty out there and could be adrift," she said.

Ms Hunt, 46, and Mr Cull left Nelson on their voyage to Rarotonga on June 8 but have not been heard from since June 9 when they spoke with family from a cellphone.

Ms Hunt's sister, Cindy Crooks, said the family were "well stressed" as they waited for news.

There was "no chance" Ms Hunt would have failed to get in touch by now.

"It's just too long," she said.

Ms Hunt has two teenage daughters. One lives in Australia with their father and the other is visiting New Zealand relatives while Ms Hunt went on the voyage.

Ms Crooks said the family were thankful the search would begin today and were happy with decisions taken by the rescue centre so far.

Ms Hunt was not an experienced sailor, but Mr Cull was, she said. The couple had enough food and water on the boat to last seven weeks.

Severe storms hit the southern Pacific in mid-June, and crews from four yachts had to be rescued about 700km north of New Zealand. An Orion co-ordinated the rescue of at least two of them and most were picked up by vessels in the area.

Ms Brook said the storms might have disabled the Manoah and its distress beacon.

The Manoah's radio could only receive messages, not transmit them.