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.
Rescuers who boarded the yacht this morning noted that three life jackets and the emergency beacon were still on board, but there was no sign of the yacht’s life boat.
A massive search and rescue operation is now underway for three men missing from the 12-metre catamaran called Kaz II, which left Airlie Beach in northern Queensland on Sunday.
It was spotted adrift on Wednesday.
Police say the missing men are from Western Australia, and aged 56, 63 and 69. Two of the men are related and the other is a friend.
They planned to take the 10-metre catamaran Kaz II, bought at Airlie Beach, back to Western Australia, first travelling north.
The air and sea search continues spanning the Whitsundays in the south to Davies Reef and Cape Bowling Green, near Ayr, police said.
Emergency Management Queensland (EMQ) spokesman Jon Hall said crews were puzzled by what they found because “everything appeared normal”.
“It looked like the boat had been recently abandoned. The engine was still running in neutral (but) one of the sails had been damaged,” Mr Hall said.
“There was a laptop computer on board and running with power, the computers on board were running, all of their clothing was still there.
“The table was actually set for a meal with food and cutlery in place.
“The radio was working, the GPS was working and things below deck were normal except for the absence of crew.”
The GPS will be analysed for clues to see if the boat’s passage can be tracked backwards over the previous five days to help the search.
Search and rescue teams say sailing conditions when the men set off were rough.
“The wind was at 30 knots and the waves were rising,” said a spokesman for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. “I wouldn’t have gone out.”
Kaz II was first spotted floating near the outer Great Barrier Reef, 80 nautical miles northeast of Townsville, the boat’s intended destination.
AMSA is coordinating the search for the seamen by air.
Ten planes and two Queensland emergency service helicoptors are searching an area spanning 700 nautical square miles along the outer Great Barrier Reef, where AMSA said it is “most probable” the boat became distressed.
The search will be widened to 4300 square nautical miles, if today’s search is unsuccessful, AMSA said.
A military Blackhawk helicopter may join the air search later today.
Police said four volunteer rescue boats are scanning the area by sea.
Townsville water police will tow the vessel back today.
“It’s very unusual,” a Queensland Police spokeswoman said. “Until we get the boat back to Townsville and get our investigators on board, it’s a bit of a mystery” she said.
While AMSA was hopeful the man was still alive, the spokesman said: “The size and intesity of the search tells you that the task is now urgent.
“It’s a large search area but the boat is not drifting a long way from the coast. It seems to be going up and down the coast with the tides.”