15 Oct 2008

Shipwrecked group 'lucky' to have been rescued

6:14 pm on 15 October 2008

An American yachtie who saved the lives of three people in heavy seas near Fiji says he almost did not see them and was about to sail away, thinking they had drowned.

Maurice Conti and his wife were woken by a mayday call from New Zealand woman Ali Timms and her two sailing companions about midnight on Tuesday.

The Southland woman was making a trip from Suva to Kandavu Island in a 30-foot yacht when the group experienced engine problems on Sunday. The yacht hit a reef and started to take on water.

The group spent the night clinging to an inflatable dinghy in heavy swells and their mayday call was intercepted by Mr Conti's yacht anchored nearby.

Mr Conti says he was worried about the risk to his wife and two young children on board, but when it became clear that no one else was in a position to help they went to the rescue.

The Californian man says he usually turns his radio off overnight and it was a stroke of luck that he forgot to do so and heard the distress call.