WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Three crewmen aboard a helicopter that crashed off the New Zealand coast while on a rescue mission were found alive on a remote island Tuesday after they were missing overnight.
Rescue Coordination Centre spokesman Mark Dittmer said the men were found shortly before noon in their survival suits walking along a beach on uninhabited Auckland Island, some 500 kilometers (311 miles) southwest of the town of Invercargill where they'd left from 16 hours earlier.
He said the crew had some injuries and were being flown by helicopter to a hospital in Invercargill. The wreckage of the helicopter was found in the water near a neighboring island.
Dittmer said that while they don't yet know all the details of what happened, it appears the helicopter crashed in the ocean near the islands and that the crew's survival suits, also known as dry suits, helped them survive the frigid and stormy waters. He said it's standard practice for crews to wear such suits while on rescue missions.
The helicopter left Monday evening to evacuate a person aboard a fishing boat who needed urgent medical attention, said rescue center duty manager Kevin Banaghan. On board were a pilot, a crew member and a paramedic.
He said the final contact with the helicopter was at 7:37 p.m. Monday, and it disappeared from radar tracking about 10 minutes later. He said there was no distress call and that the crew didn't activate their emergency beacons, which worried rescuers. He said the water was about 11 degrees Celsius (52 Fahrenheit) at the time, and that the helicopter also contained a life raft.
An Air Force P-3 Orion plane used its radar to search for the missing crew overnight without success, Banaghan said. But then a fishing boat found a side door from the helicopter Tuesday morning in relatively good condition, he said, raising hopes that the impact of the crash hadn't been too severe.
Other helicopters and fishing boats joined in the search. Dittmer said that one of those in the search party who found the trio was Sir Richard Hayes, who owns the helicopter company the pilot and crewman work for, Southern Lakes Helicopters.
The paramedic works for the St John medical organization. Pauline Buchanan, a St John district operations manager, said it's pleased the men have been found alive and well and that the paramedic has been receiving medical treatment.
"His family feel a huge relief and is looking forward to being reunited with their husband and father later tonight," Buchanan said in a statement.
Rescuers said the person on the fishing boat who prompted the evacuation attempt was also being transported to a hospital.