Friday, April 20, 2007
An unmanned yacht found drifting off the north Queensland coast had computers running and even food on a table ready to eat — but no crew, puzzled emergency services say.
The 12-metre catamaran KAZ II was first spotted by a coastwatch aircraft on Wednesday near the outer Great Barrier Reef after leaving Airlie Beach on Sunday.
The catamaran's dingy was still attached, police said, but this was disputed by emergency services crew out at the scene at dawn today who said there was no lifeboat to be seen.
A rescue helicopter identified the yacht overnight and confirmed there was no one aboard.
Queensland police have confirmed three men from Western Australia are missing. They men — aged 56, 63 and 69, according to the ABC — are thought to have bought the yacht at Airlie Beach and were sailing it back home to Western Australia.
Emergency Management Queensland spokesman Jon Hall said crews were puzzled by what they found because "everything appeared normal".
"They got on board and said the engine was running, the computers were running, there was a laptop set up on the table which was running, the radio was working, the GPS was working and there was food and utensils set on the table ready to eat, but no sign of the crew," he said.
"It was a bit strange."
Mr Hall said crews returned to the boat on Friday morning, around 80 nautical miles off Townsville, to check if anyone was trapped inside.
He said they retrieved the boat's GPS system to analyse data for clues to the mysterious disappearance of the crew.
"That will now enable us to track backwards where this yacht has actually been in the last few days, and we're hoping that can pinpoint the search area for the missing crew," he said.
Meteorologists have ruled out the possibility a freak wave swept the three men overboard.
"There was no evidence of a freak wave occurring in that area [in that time]," said Greg Connor, from the Townsville Bureau of Meteorology. "Weather conditions were relatively good."
Mr Connor said no unusual weather was recorded in the area between Sunday and Wednesday.
"There were quite strong trade winds — south-easterlies at 20 knots — but nothing that should have caused concern," he said.
The boat is now being towed to Townsville for closer inspection.
"It seems very unusual," north Queensland police Chief Superintendent Roy Wall told reporters in Townsville.
"The weather on Sunday, Monday wasn't too good - there was a fair sort of a wind blowing out there.
"But it's improved since then, so who knows what could have happened."
Seven aircraft were searching the vicinity for the three men this afternoon.
Their families were being kept informed of search efforts.