Enchanting Fishing Charter Tragedy: Four Survivors Break Silence on Heartbreaking Ordeal in New Documentary

Five people died when a rogue wave hit the Enchant fishing charter near Murimotu Island in March. Photos / Provided

Four survivors of the Enchanter fishing charter tragedy have revealed dramatic details of their ordeal – including the moment a 10m rogue wave crashed into their boat, surviving for hours in freezing water and how they were rescued.

In a Newshub documentary aired Wednesday night, Shay Ward, Kobe O’Neill, Ben Stinson and Jayde Cook spoke about the tragedy – six months after the boat, one of three operated by Enchanter Fishing Charters, s reversed on March 20 during a five day trip to the Three Kings Islands north of Cape Reinga.

The men, along with the boat’s skipper and charter company founder Lance Goodhew, were pulled from the water in an extraordinary rescue effort, but Cambridge men Richard Bright, 63, Mike Lovett, 72 , Geoffrey Allen, 72, Mark Walker, 41, and Mark Sanders, 43, of Te Awamutu, have all died.

In the documentary, Newshub investigates the enchanter’s tragedythe men detail how they embarked on a “bucket list fishing trip” that cost them nearly $2,000 each.

After three days of fishing, they took a route around the North Cape on their return trip, but not before trying to drop anchor for dinner.

Between 15 and 20 minutes later, O’Neill was cooking for the crew when a massive wave – Ward told Newshub it was “at least 10 meters high” – crashed into the ship without warning.

The wave is believed to have hit just before 8pm near Murimotu Island, washing away the boat’s flybridge.

The men were dunked in the water with glass and debris strewn everywhere.

Struggling to break through the surface, they feared drowning.

“I saw the light flash in front of my eyes and I thought, ‘f***, I’m going to die,” O’Neill told Newshub.

He was dazed when he finally managed to breathe again, O’Neill said, but quickly regained consciousness as he surveyed his surroundings.

According to Cook, the seriousness of the situation was not immediately clear – he expected to see all his comrades laughing at him for falling off the boat.

But their thoughts quickly turned to finding the missing – Bright, Lovett, Allen, Walker and Sanders – and fighting for survival.

A lifeless Lovett was found floating in the water and pulled onto the roof of the boat in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to save him.

Walker was in one of the beds when the wave hit and was trapped inside as water rushed into the cabin.

“Sitting in a pile of dead fish, it woke me up pretty quick, [I thought that] something’s gonna come get me,” O’Neill said.

Kobe O'Neill was a senior deckhand on the Enchanter and survived the capsize.
Kobe O’Neill was a senior deckhand on the Enchanter and survived the capsize.

As the last rays of sunshine began to fade, the men tried to climb up slippery debris, trying to protect themselves from the freezing waters and what lay beneath them.

“I thought about dying, I thought about how I was going to die, but I didn’t think I was going to die,” Ward said.

Ward and Cook sought shelter on the hull and Stinson, Goodhew and O’Neill were on top of the boat, which quickly swam away from the other two men.

An EPIRB (Emergency Positioning Indication Radio Beacon) then floated on the roof of the boat, which the men grabbed and immediately used to send a signal picked up by the Rescue Coordination Center in Wellington.

Ward, who had a pregnant partner at home, said he thought about going home while hanging on for his life.

He was bleeding profusely from a wound on his upper thigh and told Cook he thought he was bleeding as they drifted through the darkness, being crushed by oncoming waves.

“The boat was upside down, the propellers are spinning, there’s black smoke everywhere,” Ward said.

Next to him, Cook tried to call for help with a phone that, in one life-proof case, was still working. An emergency call from the phone also alerted rescuers.

Brenda Bright, the widow of Richard Bright who died on the Enchanter.  Photo/Mike Scott
Brenda Bright, the widow of Richard Bright who died on the Enchanter. Photo/Mike Scott

After three hours in freezing water, hanging for their lives, a helicopter appeared and whisked them to safety on shore.

While investigations by Maritime New Zealand and the Transport Accident Investigation Board into the tragedy are ongoing, survivors are still coming to terms with the loss of their friends.

“It’s tragic, five men, five families you know…” Cook said.

“It’s not an easy thing to go around and meet a group of people you’ve never met before and tell them how their loved ones spent their last days, but it’s a necessary thing to do. “Ward explained.

Stinton said it was one of the hardest things he had to do.

“You think they won’t want to see us, but they’ve been incredibly supportive of us.”

He also revealed that he still struggles with feelings of survivor guilt. When asked how he dealt with it, Stinton replied, “I don’t know if I deal with it or not.”

Robert A. Glidden