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Schooner searchers hopeful after life-raft sightings

Published: 11:32AM Monday August 19, 2013 Source: ONE News / Fairfax

Sightings of a life-raft have raised hopes that the seven people on board missing American yacht Nina may still be alive, the search manager says.

A privately funded New Zealand search plane has left Norfolk Island for an area in the Tasman Sea where dozens of people have reported seeing the life-raft, which may be from the missing yacht.

A crowd-sourcing tool exploring 56,000 satellite pictures spotted the bright orange object. Nina carried a bright orange life-raft.

The Kiwi plane set out today to try to find the object.

EquuSearch senior advisor Ralph Baird is managing the privately funded search and said the satellite image had raised hopes that the schooner's passengers were alive.

"We'll investigate that. We'll search this area. Hopefully we'll find and identify what it is exactly. It might even be a life-raft from another vessel. It could be that there is more than one rescue involved here," he said.

The life-raft would have included basic equipment, he said.

"It would have included some very primitive survival equipment to be able to collect fish and fresh water. [Also] oars, some sort of propelling device and yes, very minimal provisions."

The Rescue Co-ordination Centre said it had provided ocean current modelling assistance to the searchers, so they can work out where the orange object might have floated since it was captured by the satellite on August 3.

But the new information does not justify the resumption of the ocean search by New Zealand authorities, the centre said.

The 85-year-old Nina left Opua, in the Bay of Islands, on May 29 bound for Newcastle, Australia.

It was last heard from on June 4, when conditions in the Tasman were very rough, but searching only began on June 25. New Zealand authorities called off the official search on July 4.

A Facebook site set up by crew families says they have raised enough money to hire a twin-engine Cessna F406 owned by Gisborne based Kiwi Air Ltd.

Nina had on board skipper David Dyche III, 58, his wife, Rosemary, 60, son David Dyche IV, 17, Evi Nemeth, 73, Kyle Jackson, 27 and Danielle Wright, 18, all Americans. Also aboard was Matthew Wootton, 35, a leader of the British Greens, who refused on environmental grounds to fly.