John and Helen McFadzean bring Rex Belandres off the fishing boat that rescued him. PHOTOS/HAYLEY GASTMEIER
Kayaker drifted 16km off remote coastline
HAYLEY GASTMEIER and EMILY IRELAND
The chances of Rex Belandres being found alive were slim when he drifted about 16km off a remote Wairarapa coast on Thursday morning, sparking a search and rescue effort.
His family waited on shore at the bach they were holidaying at Glenburn Station, in Carterton district.
Belandres spent more than two hours – with his kayak capsizing about 20 times – drifting further from the coast.
“The swells were bigger than the house, and I was just lying in the kayak as it continued to capsize,” he said.
He had been wearing a wetsuit and a lifejacket, with a rope attached to the vessel, and was rescued by fisherman Dugald Cameron, of Pahaoa Sation in South Wairarapa.
Cameron said the water was cold and choppy and he and his two crew had been searching for a couple of hours before they laid eyes on Belandres.
“He didn’t stand out in his black wetsuit and faded yellow lifejacket.
“He was hardly above water and about 150m away when we first spotted him . . . he was absolutely knackered, it was about half an hour before we could get a word out of him.”
After the rescue, Belandres’ three children joked about how they had been putting claims on their father’s possessions, including his phone, jet ski, and the kayak itself before he had made it back safely to land.
In all seriousness however, the family from Paraparaumu said it had been the worst and best day of their lives.
Originally from the Philippines, Belandres had ventured out in his kayak to empty a cray pot some time before 11am.
Belandres’ 20-year-old daughter Kathleen saw her father paddle out and capsize twice.
It became clear as the kayak drifted away from the buoy that things weren’t going to plan.
“Everyone was asleep, I was the only one watching him,” she said.
She woke her brother and jumped on the jet ski to get to her dad, but he was drifting out to sea at a fast pace.
“I got maybe 4km out – he must have been 10km out at that stage – but I had to turn back otherwise I could have died too.”
Belandres’ wife Jennifer went to Glenburn Station and called emergency services.
Glenburn Station owners John and Helen McFadzean said the windy and rough conditions were less than ideal for a day out on the water and they had been expecting the worst.
Amalgamated Helicopters was deployed to the search, and a Mayday call was put out to all boats in the vicinity.
Helen McFadzean got out all the sets of binoculars she owned, and she and two American tourists watched the sea for any signs of life.
Relief came at about 1.30pm, when Belandres, was found safe and well.
“I was scared I’d drift to Australia and I’d forgot my passport,” he laughed after he had recovered and warmed up from the ordeal.
“I saw the helicopter quite far away and I tried to wave at them, but they didn’t see me. Another 15 minutes went by and I waved again, but they didn’t stop.”
Then Cameron’s boat, Bay Knight, arrived.
“I said, ‘Thank God you are here’.”
Belandres and his family said they were extremely grateful to everyone who helped with the rescue effort.
The crane operator and welder-fabricator said he hoped to pay back the favour by fixing some holes in Bay Knight.
“The biggest problem now is I’ve still got no cray.”