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Ocean search team confident of finding missing Kiribati children

Updated May 9, 2011 16:54:42

The search team looking for a group of six children missing in their outrigger canoe off Kiribati say they're still quietly confident of finding them.

The children are thought to have drifted out of a lagoon while gathering palms for roof thatching four days ago.

But the NZ Rescue Coordination Centre says weather conditions are favourable and such missions have been successful in the past.

Presenter: Richard Ewart
Speaker: Search & Rescue Officer Kevin Bamaghan at the NZ Rescue Coordination Centre

BAMAGHAN: We've had a P3 Orion, a New Zealand P3 Orion been searching for the last two days. Yesterday it conducted what they call a radar search in order to locate the aluminium vessel they're believed to be in. They did that right through to last night. They landed at Tarawa, in Kiribati. This morning they were up at first light and they conducted a shoreline search of a nearby island. Unfortunately they didn't find anything. From there, we've conducted further visual and radar searches and this is also being done in conjunction with a local vessel called the ...... and that's also searching in what we believe to be the most likely area if the children have drifted away from the island.

EWART: At this stage, with the degree of effort that's been put in and the amount of time that you've already been involved in this search so far, what kind of time scale would you put on this?

BAMAGHAN: We've had quite good success in this particular area over the years. Some searches have gone on for days. Obviously as the days go on, the search area becomes much larger. I do know for sure that the P3 Orion is committed to continuing today and tomorrow. We're going to review the search area tonight with the New Zealand air force and we will come up with a suggested search area for tomorrow. Once again, at that point we'll review our search planning.

EWART: And I would assume that these individuals would be singularly ill equipped to cope if they've been taken out to sea somewhere which appears to have been what's happened?

BAMAGHAN: It seems as though they have drifted off to sea, but we don't know what if any water or food supplies they've got on board. We do know that they were collected some palm leaves to make some shelter and we sort of hope that they have got some sort of shelter and the weather conditions up there have been quite pleasant, slight seas and light winds up to 10 to 12 knots. To answer your question though, we're not exactly sure what supplies they had on board.

EWART: But in terms of making a decision as to when a search like this would have to be called off, because plainly you couldn't devote this level of resources indefinitely. Who makes those sorts of decisions and how are they made?

BAMAGHAN: The suspension of the search is a difficult thing for everyone involved. It's based generally on the likelihood of survivability, the likelihood that the target whether it be in this case the children in the boat within the search area and the lack of any further information which would led to the continuation of the search. It's a number of issues I suppose which have to come together for anyone to make the idea to suspend the search.

EWART: How often do you find yourself involved in an operation like this, where on the face of it, it seems that these children have been out doing something what obviously they felt was pretty harmless, and they were gathering palms as you say, but whether its currents or winds or whatever it is that's taken them away and now they're stranded effectively unless you can find them?

BAMAGHAN: At the Rescue Coordination Centre, we're involved in over 1,000 incidents a year and they vary from trampers being lost in the bush, through to people in kayaks getting dragged out to sea. In this case, round the islands, we've had a number of cases in recent months where children and young adults have been reported missing or overdue and with the assets that we employ such as the P3 Orion we've managed to at this point have a good success rate in locating these sort of people.

EWART: So at this stage, you would be still quietly optimistic?

BAMAGHAN: Oh, absolutely. We're quietly confident we're going to find them today. The search the test models we use have been very accurate over the years and once again, it's just a matter of determining the initial start position and taking into account the ocean's current and the wind-driven current as to where they're most likely to be.

We've got quite a large area, remembering they went missing on the 5th of the month and today's the 9th, so we've got quite a large area, but we're quietly confident that we can find them.

EWART: And is there an allied education issue in all this that perhaps the people need to be more aware of the dangers obviously of being on the water, because plainly in this case, it would seem or whatever happened to these children, that they weren't expecting it obviously?

BAMAGHAN: Yeah, I think it's fair to say that there's going to be a good lesson learnt, although we've had this in the past, we've had once again children from the same area actually go missing for days on end and it seems the lesson hasn't quite sunk in. It is dangerous. The waters down there are very, very deep and quite treacherous and in this case, the children were in a quite large lagoon from which they've gone missing and we can only suspect that they've drifted out to sea and a lot of things outside their control obviously and whether they could or couldn't swim back to shore, they've elected to stay on the boat.

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