Five people died when their boat capsized after a suspected collision with a whale off New Zealand’s South Island on Saturday. Another six people aboard the boat were rescued.
Police said the 8.5-metre vessel overturned near the town of Kaikoura and that they were investigating the cause of the accident.
Kaikoura Mayor Craig Mackle said the water was calm at the time of the incident and the assumption is that a whale surfaced from beneath the boat and flipped it.
He said there were some sperm whales in the area and also some humpback whales travelling through.
The boat was a fishing charter vessel and the passengers were probably fishing for cod, grouper and other species, he said.
He said locals helped with the rescue effort throughout the day but the mood in the town had been “sombre” because the water was so cold that they feared for the outcome of anybody who fell overboard.
The mayor said he had thought in the past about the possibility of a boat and whale colliding, given the number of whales that frequent the area.
“It always plays on your mind that it could happen,” he said.
Vanessa Chapman told the news website Stuff that she and a group of friends had watched the rescue effort unfold from Goose Bay, near Kaikoura. She said that when she arrived at a lookout spot, she could see a person sitting on top of an overturned boat waving their arms.
Two rescue helicopters and a third local helicopter were circling before two divers jumped out, she said. The person on top of the boat was rescued and a second person appeared to have been pulled from the water, she told Stuff.
Kaikoura is a popular whale-watching destination. The sea floor drops away steeply from the coast, making for deep waters close to the shore. A number of businesses offer boat trips or helicopter rides so that tourists can see whales, dolphins and other sea creatures up close.
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