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A helicopter and a rescue boat search for survivors off the coast of Kaikoura, New Zealand, on Saturday. Photo: AP

5 dead after New Zealand boat hits whale and capsizes

  • Another six people aboard the fishing charter vessel were rescued after it overturned near the South Island town of Kaikoura
  • Kaikoura mayor said the water was dead calm and the assumption was that the whale had surfaced from beneath the boat and flipped it
New Zealand
Five people in New Zealand died on Saturday after the small charter boat they were aboard capsized, authorities said, in what may have been a collision with a whale.

Another six people aboard the boat were rescued. Police said the 8.5m vessel overturned near the South Island town of Kaikoura. Police said they were continuing to investigate the cause of the accident.

Kaikoura Police Sergeant Matt Boyce described it as a devastating and unprecedented event.

“Our thoughts are with everyone involved, including the victims and their families, their local communities, and emergency services personnel,” Boyce said.

He said police divers had recovered the bodies of all those who had died. He said all six survivors were assessed to be in stable condition at a local health centre, with one transferred to a hospital in the city of Christchurch as a precaution.

145 whales die after becoming stranded on New Zealand island

Kaikoura Mayor Craig Mackle said that the water was dead calm at the time of the accident and the assumption was that a whale had surfaced from beneath the boat.

He said there were some sperm whales in the area and also some humpback whales travelling through.

He said locals had helped with the rescue efforts throughout the day but the mood in the town was “sombre” because the water was so cold and they feared for the outcome of anybody who had fallen overboard.

Mackle said he’d thought in the past about the possibility of a boat and whale colliding, given the number of whales that frequent the region.

“It always plays on your mind that it could happen,” he said, adding that he hadn’t heard about any previous accidents.

Mackle said the boat was a fishing charter vessel.

Vanessa Chapman told Stuff she and a group of friends had watched the rescue efforts unfold from Goose Bay, near Kaikoura. She said that when she arrived at a lookout spot, she could see a person sitting atop an overturned boat waving their arms.

She said two rescue helicopters and a third local helicopter were circling before two divers jumped out. She told Stuff that the person atop the boat was rescued and a second person appeared to have been pulled from the water.

A helicopter flies over an overturned boat with a survivor sitting on the hull off the coast of Kaikoura. Photo: AP

Kaikoura is a popular whale-watching destination. The sea floor drops away precipitously from the coast, making for deep waters close to the shore. A number of businesses offer boat trips or helicopter rides so tourists can see whales, dolphins and other sea creatures up close.

Compliance agency Maritime New Zealand said it sent two investigators to the scene and would be conducting a thorough investigation once recovery operations had concluded.

Principal Investigator Tracy Phillips said the agency “offers its heartfelt condolences to the family and loved ones of the people who have died.”