Six fishermen missing during strong winds warning rescued after Tonga, NZ and US rescue effort

    Six Tongan fishermen who went missing during a gale wind warning for Tonga had been rescued today following a joint rescue effort between the U.S. Coast Guard, Maritime New Zealand and the Tongan navy.

    The men arrived safely to Tongatapu aboard a Tongan naval patrol boat after they were initially located by a U.S. Coast Guard HC-130 Hercules aircrew from Air Station Barbers Point, Hawaii, a U.S. Coast Guard District 14 Hawaii Pacific statement said.

    The fishermen were missing at sea since Tuesday 23 May 2017 and they were reported missing at 10:25am on Wednesday 24 May, Tongan Police said.

    “The fishermen left Nuku’alofa on the Lilite 1 heading to an area near Fonoi Ha’apai for a fishing trip on Monday 15 May 2017, they were expected back on Tuesday 23 May, but by Wednesday morning there was no sign of them”.

    According to U.S. Coast Guard watchstanders at Joint Rescue Coordination Center Honolulu its Hercules crew were due to return to Hawaii from Auckland following participation in the regional search and rescue conference when they received a request Wednesday afternoon to look for the missing Tongans.

    The Hercules were then diverted from their original mission to respond.

    According to US Coast Guards, upon arrival to the search area Wednesday evening, about 80 miles off Tonga, the Hercules crew sighted the fishermen waving a white flag.

    They released a long range deployable drop kit to the crew of the disabled vessel which included food and water, a VHF radio, and a transponder.

    Watchstanders at JRCC Honolulu notified RCC New Zealand personnel of the vessel’s position. Due to fuel constraints the Hercules crew was forced to depart the scene to American Samoa for fuel and crew rest.

    RCC New Zealand personnel provided the position to the Tongan naval patrol boat crew who used the transponder to successfully re-located the fishing vessel and rescue all six men. All six fishermen are reportedly on good condition.

    “I’m proud of my crew and how well we represented the United States this past week,” said Lt. Cmdr. Michael Koehler, Hercules pilot, Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point.

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