Father and son find dead fisherman, police launch search for second man

Father and son find dead fisherman, police launch search for second man

A Sunday fishing trip turned to tragedy for two men likely swept from the rocks into the sea while angling off a perilous spot at the base of the Coromandel Peninsula.

Now two wives are left behind in Hamilton, struggling to deal with the loss of at least one of the men whose body washed ashore at Homunga Bay on Sunday. He was Yingbo Xu, 28 years old, from Hamilton.

The partner of the other missing man, 36, is anxiously awaiting news at home, with her newborn baby and young child.

Both men, originally from China and now living in Hamilton, had headed out for a day's fishing on the rocks of the isolated bay, north of Waihi Beach, sometime Sunday morning.

They took with them a backpack of personal items and their fishing gear, parking at the top of the rugged cliff that looks out across the Bay of Plenty coastline.

After navigating the 45-minute trek down the farm track, past cattle grazing on the hillside and through the shrub, they reached the small sandy inlet of Homunga Bay.

At the southern end of the beach is a rocky outpost – a popular spot for fishermen in search of everything from snapper and kahawai to gurnard and trevally.

But it's also a treacherous spot, Sergeant Phil Bell of Waikato police search and rescue said. Past incidents have seen a life ring installed on the rocks.

"Where they were fishing has been a problem spot before.

"It's a very rugged part of the coast and when you have the wind and the swell coming in from the east, it's very rough on those rocks and the whole coastline takes a real beating."

Both men were from China and described by police as beginner fishermen.

The missing man only very recently immigrated to New Zealand with his wife, young child and baby, a little over a month old.

He was learning to fish and had been going out with a friend, Bell said.

Although it was unconfirmed, police believed the pair were swept off the rocks into the sea, likely at the same time.

"If they had been washed off separately you would expect the life buoy to be deployed but it's still in place," Bell said.

"Weather conditions are such that you can get those unpredictable waves coming through."

A father and son out fishing discovered the 28-year-old's body floating in the waves near the middle of the beach on Sunday. They notified police around 2.30pm.

The man had been formally identified and police had spoken with his wife.

"They are all upset," Bell said.

Items belonging to the pair, including a shoe, clothing and backpack containing personal items, were found abandoned on the rocks at the southern end of the bay.

Neither of the men were wearing lifejackets, Bell said.

"If you are fishing off rocks you should be wearing a lifejacket, or inflatable life vest because of the unpredictable nature of the sea."

THE SEARCH

Speaking from the scene on Monday, Waikato police Search and Rescue Constable Brian Connors said two land-based teams were scouring the area – one north and one south of Homunga Bay.

"They're checking all the beaches, and rocks and high points right around the cliff faces looking for the missing person.

"Surf life saving have three IRBs [inflatable rescue boats] operating just off the coast."

He understood the pair were fishing on the point to the south end of the small sandy bay. They had gone fishing sometime in the late morning on Sunday.

Sea conditions off the steep rugged coast were deteriorating on Monday and by 11.30 rain had set in.

Swells of more than three metres had forced surf life saving inflatables to retire the search for the day. They would resume daily when the weather allowed.

"We got out here at first light to do what we can and get surf life saving back onshore before the really bad weather hits."

Searchers had recovered unrelated fishing debris, but no sign of the missing man.

"This is a very small bay with a small sandy beach in the middle and then it just turns to sheer cliffs and rock faces.

"The beach and fishermen's access points are easy to get to, but the rugged parts have to do done by air, which were done yesterday."

Through Sunday afternoon, police scoured the area on foot and the police Eagle helicopter swept the area.

WEAR A LIFEJACKET

New Zealand Recreational Fishing Council president Keith Ingram said land-based fishing should be treated with the same respect for the sea as boat fishing.

It carries inherent risks, especially when fishing off rocky outposts, he said.

"People who are land-based fishing have got sturdy footwear on, gumboots and clothes and, if it's cold, a jacket, so they're always at an inherent risk of tripping and stumbling."

Land-based fishermen typically fished "for food and not so much for fun", he said. Often safety equipment was not a priority.

"They think 'I'm not in a boat, I'm on the land – what can go wrong?'"

But a lot can go wrong.

"A wave can snap you up when you least expect it, when you've got your back turned, when you're baiting a hook and you get washed off the rocks.

"Or you're trying to land a fish and you clamber down the rocks to ensure you don't lose it, and you slip and fall."

All land-based anglers should wear a life jacket or an inflatable vest and when fishing with a mate take a rescue quoit – a small round inflatable with braided line, stretching up to 30 metres.

"Both of them may have survived had they been wearing a life jacket."

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