Two people are reportedly dead and three more missing after a boat in New Zealand collided with a whale and capsized.
News organization Stuff reported that two people had died in the accident Saturday morning near the South Island town of Kaikōura.
Kaikōura Mayor Craig Mackle told The Associated Press he could confirm that 11 people had been aboard the boat at the time of the accident and that six had been safely brought back to shore. He said the boat was a fishing charter vessel and that the passengers would likely have been fishing for cod, grouper and other species.
He said the water was “bloody cold” and the outcome for anybody who had fallen overboard was not likely to be good. He said locals were busy helping out with the rescue efforts but the mood in the town was “somber” as they awaited more news of those who were missing.
Mackle said the water was dead calm and the assumption was that the whale had surfaced from beneath the boat and flipped it. He said there were some sperm whales in the area and also some humpback whales traveling through, although he didn’t know what type of whale might have collided with the boat.
He said he’d thought in the past about the possibility of a boat and whale colliding, given the number of whales that frequent the area.
“It always plays on your mind that it could happen,” he said, adding that he hadn’t heard about any previous accidents.
Police said in a statement they were responding to an incident in which a boat had reportedly capsized and they had closed off a boat ramp from public use. They did not immediately provide further details.
Vanessa Chapman told Stuff she and a group of friends had watched the rescue efforts unfold from Goose Bay, near Kaikōura. She said that when she arrived at a lookout spot, she could see a person sitting atop an overturned boat waving their arms.
She said two rescue helicopters and a third local helicopter were circling before two divers jumped out. She told Stuff that the person atop the boat was rescued and a second person appeared to have been pulled from the water.
Kaikōura is a popular whale-watching destination. The seafloor drops away precipitously from the coast, making for deep waters close to the shore. A number of businesses offer boat trips or helicopter rides so tourists can see whales, dolphins and other sea creatures up close.