A Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K2 Orion found a Tongan fisherman, who had been missing since for three days, safe but sunburned, adrift in an inflatable life raft off the island of Eua on 25 April.
Air Commodore Darryn Webb, the air component commander, said the Orion used in the search, which was supervised by the Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ), spotted the man waving with his oars around mid-afternoon. He said: “The man was not in the fishing boat that the search request from the Tongan authorities had described but he clearly was in distress. He appeared well but sunburned.”
Webb said the Orion crew had passed on the information to the Tongan Navy, which dispatched a patrol boat to the life raft about 13 km (8 miles) southeast of Eua. The aircraft remain on scene until the boat reached the life raft.
The NZDF sent the Orion to search for the fisherman on 24 April, following a request from the RCCNZ. Tongan authorities had searched without success before requesting assistance from New Zealand. The crew stayed overnight in Tonga and resumed the following morning.
The man had been between the Tongan islands of Tongatapu and Eua on 22 April when his 4.8-m (16 ft) boat suffered engine failure, said the NZDF. He rang his family on his mobile phone about 18:00 hrs that day to seek help, but was not heard from thereafter.
The search area was estimated at about 16,600 square kilometres.