Missing Tongan fisherman found “safe but sunburned”

UPDATED: A New Zealand Defence Force orion has found the missing Tongan fisherman safe but sunburned, adrift in an inflatable life raft off the island of ʻEua.

Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) launched the Orion on Monday afternoon to search for Tupouniua Veamatahau , who left Manuka on a small boat on Saturday.

The man was fishing between the Tongan islands of Tongatapu and Eua on Saturday when his 4.8-metre boat suffered engine failure.

He rang his family on his mobile phone about 6pm that day to seek help and he has not been heard from since.

Air Commodore Darryn Webb, the Air Component Commander, said a Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K2 Orion used in the search, which was supervised by the Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ), spotted the man waving with his oars about mid-afternoon.

“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,” Air Commodore Webb said.

He said the Orion crew had passed on the information to the Tongan Navy, which has dispatched a patrol boat to the life raft about 13 kilometres southeast of Eua.

The aircraft was to remain on scene until the Tongan Navy patrol boat reached the life raft about 4.30pm.

The NZDF sent the Orion to search for the fisherman on Monday, following a request from the RCCNZ. The crew stayed overnight in Tonga and resumed the search this morning.

Tongan authorities had searched without success before requesting assistance from New Zealand.

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