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Bay of Islands yacht rescue: Paramedic had to cut victim free from liferaft lines

A rescuer had to cut two entangled sailors free from a liferaft near the Bay of Islands after their yacht sank in bad weather.

Stuart Pedersen, a chair of a sailing trust and an ACT Party candidate, died when the 47-foot yacht went down about 37 kilometres off the coast of Cape Brett on Monday afternoon.

The yacht was reportedly returning from Fiji.

Rescuers battled strong winds and high seas before three survivors and Pedersen were winched from an Air Force Orion liferaft to a rescue helicopter

Coastguard Northern Region said the four sailors abandoned their vessel, having lost their liferaft in the swells.

Karl Taylor, Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust chief intensive care paramedic, said he faced some of the most adverse conditions in his about 20-year career, testing his level of fitness.

Taylor told Stuff he found an "unresponsive" Pedersen and his wife, Pamela, tangled up in the liferaft's drogue, which is responsible for slowing it down.

"They were very tangled up. I was unable to winch them without cutting them loose. If I didn't have my knife with me, I wouldn't have been able to save them."

He described seeing Pedersen and his wife being dragged by the liferaft in six to eight metre swells as he winched down.

Taylor said he spent "a bit of time" cutting Pedersen free from lines "entangled" around his torso before he put the rescue strop over him.

"Even when we winched, he came up with debris attached to him."

As soon as Pedersen was in the helicopter, Taylor went back for Pedersen's wife who was similarly "very unresponsive".

Taylor thought the pair had been unable to get into the liferaft after becoming tangled in the drogue.

Sailors Bruce Goodwin and Pamela's brother-in-law, Steve, were then winched from the liferaft.  

Taylor described the rescue as "incredible team work" as rescuers battled waves as high as 10m, 50-knot winds and a drifting liferaft.

"It was difficult for the pilot and winch operator."

At the scene off Cape Brett for about 20 minutes, Taylor reckoned the sailors had been in the 15 degree Celsius water for no more than 90 minutes before rescuers arrived.

Hypothermia was the "biggest issue" for them, along with "complete exhaustion", he said.

Wearing survival gear — lifejackets, wet weather gear and a personal locator beacon — was one of the things that saved the three survivors' lives, Taylor said.

"Our hearts go out to Stuart's family."

Maritime New Zealand said on Wednesday its investigation into the fatal boating incident was "still progressing".

"Preliminary statements from the yacht's crew taken by NZ Police are being assessed along with the information gathered from our Rescue Co-ordination Centre."

It continued to liaise with police, the Transport Accident Investigation Commission, Rescue Co-ordination Centre and the coroner.

"The findings from our investigation will be released once all information has been carefully reviewed."