US parents comb Pacific for sign of lost daughter

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 18, 2014 at 6:51 am •  Published: February 18, 2014
Advertisement
;

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Here's how Robin Wright sees it: Her 19-year-old daughter Danielle is adrift on the Pacific Ocean but is keeping her spirits up with her six crewmates on their wooden sailboat, the Nina. They're collecting rainwater, rationing food, singing, telling travel stories and planning their next adventures. Heck, Wright figures, by now Danielle may even have gotten married to one of the three young men aboard. After all, the Nina's captain is a registered celebrant.

New Zealand authorities see it very differently: They believe the 70-foot (21-meter) schooner likely sank more than eight months ago after getting battered by a storm as the crew attempted to cross the Tasman Sea from New Zealand to Australia. That's when the boat's crew stopped using their satellite phone. A search turned up no sign of the vessel and they believe there's no real chance any of them are still alive.

But Robin and husband Ricky have found it hard to give up the search for their only child. The couple from Lafayette, Louisiana, have spent the last three months living in Australia and spearheading their own search, long after New Zealand authorities gave up. This month, Ricky Wright earned his pilot's license. His aim was to fly the Australian coastline in hopes of spotting something. Anything.

They've spent $600,000 to pay for private plane searches. The money has come not only from their own savings but also from fundraisers, friends, family, even their daughter's college fund. Deeply religious, the couple says God has kept them strong and determined.

"We cannot assume the boat sank without evidence, and we think it's highly likely that it did not," Robin Wright says. "We know there's a chance the boat sank. There is a chance. But do you assume the worst and stop searching?"

Still, the search has to end at some point.

On Tuesday the Wrights, speaking by phone from the Sydney Airport, said they were returning to the U.S after running out of money and were unsure if they would return to Australia. Still, they won't lose hope until the anniversary of the boat's disappearance.

"After a year, I think the chances are down pretty low," Ricky Wright says. "But we will not give up on them. We know other people have survived up to a year."

The Wrights remain unhappy with aspects of the official search. They believe it began too late, wasn't extensive enough, and failed to restart when they presented authorities with a grainy satellite image they believe depicts the Nina adrift. New Zealand searchers say they did everything by the book and cannot do anything more. They say the military reviewed the ghostly image and concluded it was nothing more than the foam from a wave.

The Wrights last month met New Zealand's Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee in Wellington to express their concerns.

"They have enormous faith that the boat is still out there, that they're catching fish and freshwater, and will sooner or later make landfall. Unfortunately, none of our very extensive and expert-led search efforts concurs with that view," Brownlee says.

Ricky, 49, who brokers the sale of businesses, and Robin, 54, met at Louisiana State University. They home-schooled Danielle on their small farm, where their daughter loved to ride bareback on her horse, Copper. When Danielle was 15, the family took a sabbatical to sail the Caribbean.

Continue reading this story on the...