Saturday, August 29, 2009

Kiwi involved in tragic sea mystery - skipper fell overboard...

Kiwi involved in tragic sea mystery - skipper fell overboard to his death...

David Parkinson, whose adventures inspired the film Proof of Life, was lost at sea between Niue and Tonga.

Doc David Parkinson's final voyage (PDF)

A New Zealand man was left adrift and helpless on a yacht in the middle of the Pacific Ocean for three days after his skipper mysteriously fell overboard to be lost at sea.

Alexander McDonald, 65, found he was alone on the 40-foot sloop Santana somewhere between Niue and Tonga after he awoke about 6pm on August 20.

British yacht-owner David Parkinson, a former British Royal Marine whose adventures inspired a Hollywood film, is missing, presumed dead.

Tonga police commander Chris Kelley said McDonald was unable to sail the yacht alone but still tried to search for Parkinson.

"He effectively went around in ever decreasing circles for at least three days. He attempted to recover him, but he's been unsuccessful and he [Parkinson] was lost at sea."

McDonald told Kelley he did not know how to operate the communications equipment and was unable to call for help.

After three days adrift, he managed to activate the rescue beacon, which was picked up in the United Kingdom.

British authorities alerted New Zealand that help was needed in the Pacific, and a Tongan Navy rescue boat was sent to save an increasingly worried McDonald.

An aerial search found no sign of the missing skipper.

Parkinson's brother Chris, who lives in the United States, said in an email: "No body and I doubt there'll be one. God knows, I hope his passing was quick and painless - though I doubt it was peaceful."

He believed McDonald had weathered a storm since becoming adrift, having received a message from officials saying: "The engine was broken and the sails were broken."

It was an amazing round-the-world attempt that should never have been possible. The British skipper suffered from Parkinson's disease - yet set off after an experimental operation. Surgeons implanted a pacemaker in Parkinson's chest which sent electrical impulses to electrodes in his brain.

Friend of 20 years Michael Lewis, a photographer based in the United States, had recently sailed with Parkinson. "Having sailed a fair amount I can't imagine anything that is more horrific than being in the ocean and watching the boat leave you behind."

He said Parkinson was "well aware" of his physical limitations. He needed a volunteer crew to help him with sailing - and had given up going in the water.

"He wasn't going in at all. He was afraid he would have a seizure, he was being very cautious. David was really concerned about his ability to function properly outside the cockpit."

Lewis said his friend sought solace in the sea. "He comes alive when he is at the helm ... He was obviously an adventurous soul. He was bound and determined to complete his around the world journey despite the limitations that the disease was having on him."

Lewis said Parkinson had left the military to work for a company called Control Risks in London as a hostage negotiator. He worked often in Colombia, where one of his cases was made into the film Proof of Life with Russell Crowe and Meg Ryan. He recalled Parkinson saying: "We didn't really go in with guns blazing. That only happens in Hollywood."

Parkinson and Spanish crewman Magi Bacardi arrived in Rarotonga from Bora Bora on May 28. Bacardi left to join another yacht, and Parkinson began to search for another crew member.

He met McDonald, and Cook Island officials said the pair left for Niue on August 6. A spokesman for Niue Customs said Santana never arrived.

McDonald had been spoken to "at length" by Tongan police and was now free to leave the island, police chief Kelley said. The Santana would remain under guard at Nuku'alofa harbour until the police investigation was complete.

A spokesman for the Tongan Defence Services, which rescued McDonald, said the Kiwi seemed in good health.

Acknowledgements: MSN NZ

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