17 February 2006

New Zealand: Diver's survival of 3 days in ocean defies all logic

While the country celebrates an extraordinary feat of survival, many experts are saying Robert Hewitt has defied all logic by surviving 75 hours adrift in Cook Strait.

Dive New Zealand magazine editor Dave Moran said Mr Hewitt's survival was the stuff of maritime legend.

"It's just a fantastic story and we're all intrigued as to how he managed it – he should not have lasted that long in the water."

Mr Moran said Mr Hewitt's navy training, seven-millimetre-thick navy wetsuit and supply of crayfish and kina would have helped him stay alive, as would his solid build. "Personal insulation helps. If he was a skinny bloke he wouldn't have had much of a chance against the cold.

"But in saying that, it's hard to imagine anyone lasting much longer than 36 hours floating out at sea," he said. "We all assumed he died on the bottom and if he was on the surface he would have been a long way away."

Mr Moran said Cook Strait was subject to strong currents and was considered one of the most changeable and ferocious passages of water in the world.

Helipro chief executive Rick Lucas said he was gobsmacked by Mr Hewitt's survival. "It's just incredible – I was out there on the Tuesday when the conditions were idyllic and we were looking down at schools of kahawhai and you could see the fish. If he was down there we would have seen him."

Mr Lucas joined the search on Monday. "I figured, given the conditions of the day, that he was . . . going to be somewhere between Kapiti Island and Mana Island and way out to sea."

Wellington police search and rescue spokesman Sergeant Bruce Johnston likened Mr Hewitt's ordeal to accounts of World War II pilots who crashed in the deserts of North Africa and walked for days to safety.

"It all comes down to the will to live," he said.

Mr Johnston said that in the days after Mr Hewitt went missing, calculations of tide and current flows put him in a region 30 nautical miles behind Kapiti Island, spanning down to Makara.

Mr Hewitt is thought to have drifted about 40 kilometres north, off the coast of Waikanae, till currents brought him back to near Mana Island, where he was rescued on Wednesday.

Mr Johnston said the search had covered more than 150 nautical square miles of ocean, from behind Kapiti Island down to Makara. Dive squads had scanned the seabed around Mana Island.

Choppy conditions probably caused aerial searchers to miss Mr Hewitt in the sea, he said. "With his black wetsuit they could have gone over the top of him and not seen him."

Related Articles: Scuba diver found alive against the odds - adrift for 3 days

Source: www.stuff.co.nz


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