An account of the rescue was given to Rarotonga resident Richard Browne by ‘man of the moment’ Tai ‘Tango’ Herman, who risked his life by setting out alone in rough seas to save the pair, who earlier had been located by an RNZAF Orion aircraft.
Aitutaki resident Herman has been on Manihiki since March this year, building nine boats for some of the island’s pearl farmers and the details emerged after Browne phoned his friend Herman to check progress on Browne’s boat.
Former Manihiki policeman Browne took notes of the conversation, as he was amazed at the heroic effort his friend had made.
Herman told Browne that on Saturday June 6, Mokoha Johnson and his nephew Kaina Isaia Karaponga went fishing.
When the pair failed to return by noon, the alarm was raised in Tukao and search of the lagoon was mounted.
“Several boats carried out a coastal water search in the vicinity of Manihiki as well as a further lagoon search, but the result was negative,” Herman said.
With night approaching, Rarotonga police were alerted. A full-scale search and rescue operation was mounted and an Air Rarotonga chartered flight carrying a police search and rescue team left for Manihiki early on Sunday morning.
The rescue team was led by Inspector John Strickland and the aircraft crewed by captain Sean Willis and co-pilot Eugene Tatuava, Herman said.
“The Air Raro aircraft carried out an aerial search around Manihiki and nearby waters, then some time after 2pm, an RNZAF Orion arrived.
“Later the Orion spotted the missing boat more than 40 nautical miles west of Manihiki. The crew confirmed that there were two persons in the boat and its position was relayed to Manihiki and Rarotonga.”
Browne says Herman contacted Air Rarotonga’s head office in Rarotonga and was given the boat’s position.
“So with ample fuel on board he launched one of the new boats he had built for pearl farmer Kora Kora and set out in the open sea to find the missing boat. Tango had a VHF radio and GPS which guided him to the location of the missing boat, whose outboard engine had suffered a mechanical problem.
“The Orion aircraft also assisted in guiding him on the right track to the boat. Just before darkness fell he reached the area where the missing boat had been seen and the Orion dropped a marker in the water leading to the boat. It also launched a flare which clearly identified the duo in the boat.”
Johnson and Kaina boarded Herman’s boat and leaving it behind, headed back to Manihiki, but because the sea was so rough, were reduced to travelling at just five knots. The three finally reached Manihiki at 3am on Monday, June 8.
Herman told Browne the rescued duo’s family were all there to meet them, as well as a number of other island residents.
Last weekend Manihiki thanked Herman for his heroic efforts in true Cook Islands style, by putting on a ‘thank-you kaikai’.
The day after the rescue the Cook Islands Police Service told CI News last week that it would provide details, but they did not arrive. Further efforts to obtain them were unsuccessful.