13 Jun 2016

Search for man lost at sea between NZ and Fiji

11:41 pm on 13 June 2016

One man is dead and another lost at sea after strong winds damaged the rigging on a yacht about 550km north of New Zealand.

SV Platino

SV Platino Photo: Supplied

There were five people on board the 20m yacht Platino - including owners Tory and Harry McKeogh, and Ross McKee.

The vessel contacted Maritime New Zealand's Rescue Coordination Centre shortly after 11am.

The rescue centre said an Air Force Orion had been searching for the man lost overboard since about 1pm, and would resume the search at first light tomorrow.

He was not wearing a lifejacket, it said.

The dead man was still on board the yacht.

Mission coordinator Keith Allen said the swells and strong winds were making it extremely dangerous for the crew to be on deck.

Another spokesperson for the centre, Steve Rendle, said the yacht's boom was damaged.

"The boom I think has been battered around by the conditions, which are strong winds and high seas. I can only assume that the damage caused to the boom has resulted in that man being fatally injured.

"It's a challenging situation, but we are working on the basis this is a search."

He said the yacht was experiencing 4m swells.

"The three [other] people on board hunkered down below decks and they're motoring towards New Zealand, so not very pleasant conditions at all."

Mr McKee's wife told RNZ News it had been a difficult and anxious time for the family, and she only found out her husband and the McKeoghs were safe about 7.30pm.

She said the wind had dropped markedly but the waves were still quite high.

The yacht had registered to race from New Zealand to Fiji, as part of Sail Fiji. A race organiser said the crew had pulled out of the race and was sailing independently.

Platino was entered in the cruising class, and would have started its racing voyage on 1 June.