31 Dec 2008

Families celebrate after 5 rescued at sea

6:40 am on 31 December 2008

Two men and three children have told whanau how they survived being lost at sea for 28 hours in the western Bay of Plenty.

The five became lost in rough seas during a snorkelling trip to Motunau Island early Monday morning, and were rescued early on Tuesday afternoon.

There were tears and long hugs at the Coastguard rescue centre in Tauranga as the group was reunited with family.

The children are a girl aged 15 and two boys, aged 12 and 13.

One of the men on board, Billie Mackie, says they almost ran out of petrol and started to drift. He says they made home-made paddles and a sail out of towels, and attached a 3m inflatable balloon to help rescuers identify them.

Mr Mackie said his cousin Terua Toetoe, who skippered the vessel, spent the entire night trying to balance the boat so that it would not overturn.

The drama unfolded when the group sent a text message to the skipper's wife just before 1.30pm on Monday, saying they were lost at sea. Another text message believed to be from the boat was received at about 6am on Tuesday.

The Tauranga Coastguard's Marine Controller, Tom Scott, says a search helicopter spotted the missing runabout just before 1pm, 5km west of Motiti Island.