Wanaka search suspended

2 November 2008, 9:45pm

Rescue Coordination Centre NZ (RCCNZ) with the approval of the Civil Aviation Authority has suspended the search for missing pilot Morgan Saxton, 31, of Haast, after intensive search efforts over the last 24 hours have failed to find him or his aircraft.

RCCNZ Search and Rescue Officer John Dickson said the difficult decision to suspend the search had been made after an extremely thorough search of the area on Lake Wanaka where Mr Saxton was believed to have gone missing.

“Despite an intense search over the last 24 hours, involving rescue helicopters, boats and shoreline searches on foot, no further sign of Mr Saxton or his helicopter has been found,” Mr Dickson said.

“Taking into account the wide area covered by the search, the temperature of the water, the ruggedness of the surrounding terrain and the time that has now elapsed, it is considered the search has continued past the point where anyone could reasonably be expected to be found alive,” Mr Dickson said. 

“RCCNZ recommended to the Acting Director of the Civil Aviation Authority to suspend the search operations.  While we are confident that all relevant information has been acted on, we will consider resuming the search should any new information come to light.”

Mr Dickson said Police had been in close contact with the family throughout the search and that they had been informed of the decision.

RCCNZ launched a search for Mr Saxton after he was reported overdue about 8pm yesterday while on a flight to Wanaka. The Robinson R22 helicopter he was flying was last sighted north of Wanaka.

Search efforts have been focused around Mou Waho (Pigeon) Island on Lake Wanaka, after debris, confirmed to be from the missing helicopter, was found.

Mr Dickson said an extensive search for Mr Saxton had been undertaken, involving six helicopters, many local vessels and land-based search teams, who had combed lake and shoreline without success.

A search by two night-vision-equipped helicopters yesterday located a pilot’s helmet, flight jacket and gear bag, floating just north of the island about 8.15pm.  Further items, including a floor mat, first aid kit and helicopter seat-back had been found on the eastern shoreline of the lake north of the first batch of debris at 8.35am today.  An oil slick, thought to be from the missing helicopter was spotted on the water near the island at 10.30am.  The water depth at the site of the oil spill is 230 metres.

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