Yacht couple saved

An injured couple who were stranded on their damaged yacht for two days are now aboard a container ship and on their way to the Chatham Islands.

Bruce Cox and partner Heloise Kortekaas, both in their 40s, were about 780 kilometres northeast of the Chatham Islands when their 9.7-metre steel yacht Janette Gay lost its mast on Sunday on the way to the Cook Islands. An attempt to save them was made on Monday but aborted because of bad weather.

Mr Cox has head, hip and back injuries and Ms Kortekaas an arm injury.

The Lyttelton couple were rescued by the crew of the 45,800-tonne refrigerated container ship P&O Nedlloyd Encounter, which arrived in the area about 6pm yesterday. It had made a "minor alteration" to its route, the Rescue Coordination Centre said.

Spokesman Steve Corbett said the couple had managed to start the yacht's motor, allowing them to get close enough to the ship for it to lower a "walkway". The couple walked on to the ship with the help of crew.

Mission controller Neville Blakemore said the pair had been assessed on the ship and there was sufficient concern reportedly with Mr Cox's hip injury for the ship to have turned around and headed for the Chathams. It had been heading for Panama.

Wellington's Westpac rescue helicopter will winch the couple off the ship when it gets near the Chathams and rendezvous with the Life Flight air ambulance on the island to fly them to Wellington.

Mr Corbett said good weather had helped last night's rescue. The wind speed had dropped to about 10 knots and the sea swell to about 1.5 metres.

The yacht had been abandoned and ships in the area had been warned to watch out for it, he said. A decision about its future would be made later.

Mr Blakemore said the Encounter crew had several options for rescuing the couple. They could lower a lifeboat, a rope or a net down the side of the ship, or lower the gang-plank. It was the third ship to divert from its course to go to the yacht's aid.

An air force Orion also made its third flight to the yacht yesterday. It waited for the Encounter to arrive and had been ready to drop the couple a liferaft if the rescue was unsuccessful.

It had already dropped two liferafts to the couple, each worth about $250,000. Both were swept away, but the couple managed to get supplies and a radio from the second liferaft.

Ms Kortekaas' mother Anastasie said from Christchurch she was relieved to hear her daughter was safe. "I also am so thankful for everyone at Maritime Safety, the Orion aircraft, everybody who has been organising this rescue, in very dangerous weather."