Search ship Resolution to retireALEX FENSOME
Capturing sonar images of the Easy Rider wreck may be one of the last things the navy's sonar survey ship Resolution does in its 22-year career.
The Resolution will be decommissioned next month and its commanding officer, Lieutenant-Commander Matt Wray, said playing a part in the search for survivors was one of his proudest moments on board.
On Thursday evening the Resolution was on its way to Fiordland when the emergency signal came blaring over its VHF radio. "We contacted our HQ and the Rescue Co-ordination Centre and said, `We're on our way'," Lieutenant-Commander Wray said.
The ship steamed south and reached the search area about 10.30pm.
Taking police and coastguard staff on board, it formed the centre line of a nine-strong search fleet scouring the darkness.
The crew were out in force on deck, manning searchlights and using the ship's sonar equipment to search the sea floor.
At 4am, the search was suspended, but the Resolution, accompanied by Bluff-based boat Awesome, carried on searching through the night.
At 8am, the sonar made contact with something on the sea floor – an unnatural object about the same size as Easy Rider.
Awesome's crew lowered a camera and confirmed it was the capsized boat.
Divers spent most of Saturday looking for signs of crew, but the boat was empty.
Lieutenant-Commander Wray said he wished finding the boat could have returned the missing crew to their families.
"It would have been fantastic if what happened could have provided closure [for them]," he said.
The crew had been deeply affected by the tragedy and their hearts went out to the victims' families, he said.
Next month, the ship will be decommissioned and all its crew transferred to other postings.
It is no longer required by the navy.
Lieutenant-Commander Wray said the search for Easy Rider, as well as Resolution's role after the Christchurch earthquake, would be the most satisfying memories of his command.