Enchanter tragedy: Lead TAIC investigator says inquiry already well under way

The lead investigator into the tragic sinking of the Enchanter says fatal accidents at sea place an immovable burden on skippers.

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission’s chief investigator Harald Hendel said interviews with survivors of Sunday’s sinking had begun. He would not say who among the five survivors had been interviewed but said the inquiry into the accident which cost five lives was well underway.

TAIC is one of three – and possibly four – bodies investigating the tragic end to a fishing trip seen by many anglers as the trip of a lifetime.

Unlike the other bodies, which have prosecution powers, TAIC’s primary drive is to carry out a “lessons learned” investigation to prevent similar tragedies occurring. Maritime NZ and police are also carrying out inquiries and might yet be joined by WorkSafe.

There were 10 people aboard the charter boat Enchanter, skippered by Mangonui’s Lance Goodhew, when it was battered and flipped in heavy weather near North Cape on Sunday evening.

Five people, including Goodhew, were pulled from the water just hours later during an extraordinary rescue effort at one of the country’s more remote locations during a fierce storm.

The bodies of Cambridge men Richard Bright, 63, Mike Lovett, 72, Geoffrey Allen, 72, Mark Walker, 41, and Mark Sanders, 43, from Te Awamutu, were subsequently found during a two-day search operation.

Hendel – not speaking about Enchanter but generally – said: “I’m sure that something like this would rest on that person the rest of their life.”

Hendel said it was a reminder for anyone commanding a craft to keep a constant watch on safety. Those skippers who had suffered losses on craft they commanded found themselves asking “what could I have done – what could I have done better”, he said.

He said it was normal for a surviving skipper to attempt to continue as normal for two to three days after an incident. He said it was the “shock phase where it hasn’t sunk in”.

“Then it starts sinking in. That’s where psychological support is needed.

“You would never forget anything like that. I would feel for any skipper that has had to deal with that.”

The TAIC investigation – as with other agencies – was underway with four investigators working on it and interviews already conducted with some of those who had survived.

Hendel said evidence-based memory was “perishable” and important to obtain as soon as possible. He said those interviews carried out by TAIC were used only by the agency for its safety-enhancing purposes and prosecutorial agencies would need to conduct their own inquiries.

While those agencies could not access TAIC evidence and interviews, TAIC could access the information they had obtained. “Any evidence given to us is protected,” said Hendel.

He said he encouraged anyone with information to approach TAIC knowing that its evidence collection was protected and its emphasis was on improving safety.

TAIC also had primacy over physical evidence and Hendel had issued a protection order to cover it. That included the hull lost during an attempted recovery today.

Hendel confirmed that the loss of the hull would be covered by existing evidence, such as video recordings obtained during the interviews, and documentation created during regular surveys required of commercial vessels.

Hendel said the TAIC would also be seeking position and tracking information that Enchanter might have recorded or broadcast. He said that included any information recorded through the international maritime automatic identification system (AIS).

Herald inquiries of the AIS failed to find any sign of Enchanter during its trip to Manawatāwhi / Three Kings Islands. AIS technology is one of the systems recommended by TAIC and marine authorities to help vessels track each other and was also considered a key tool for search-and-rescue and accident investigation.

The AIS tracking technology records examined by the Herald show boat movements from a number of recreational and commercial vessels passing North Cape between Enchanter’s departure on Wednesday and the accident on Sunday.

Those included container ships, yachts and commercial fishing vessels – including two that travelled from Enchanter’s home port of Mangonui and Manawatāwhi / Three Kings Islands.

Those two vessels can be seen through AIS making a dash across 80km of ocean to North Cape overnight on Sunday to join Houhora Coastguard and an RNZ Navy ship search the area where Enchanter sank.

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