Search for boatie Thomas Courto, missing for almost a week continues

Emily CosenzaNCA NewsWire

A mass air, land and sea search is continuing in northwest Tasmania for a man who has been missing for almost a week after he and two others on-board a vessel became lost at sea.

The search for missing boatie Thomas Courto entered its sixth day on Monday.

He was last seen around noon last Monday, when he and two others on-board a yellow and white 17ft Caribbean half cab vessel entered waters at the Wynyard boat ramp.

The alarm was raised when the trio failed to return.

On the second day of the search, the remains of Isaiah Dixon and Bree-Anna Thomas – who were also on-board the boat – were found washed up along the shores between Table Cape and Fossil Bluff, about 200m apart from each other.

Tasmania Police have continued to search the area, with the help of the Westpac Rescue Helicopter and ground crews, but are yet to find Mr Courto.

A specific boat with a multi-beam sonar – a tool that uses multiple sound signals to detect the sea floor – was added to the search party on Monday.

“While the police search is ongoing, and with conditions in the area, to ensure a co-ordinated approach and safety of the community, police ask people not to enter the water,” police said in a statement.

Flowers and notes had been laid for the trio at a Wynyard park and along the main street to honour them.

“If anyone seen a yellow boat today in the water at all today (Monday) from Smithton to Devonport or have heard from Isaiah Dixon or Thomas Courto on any social media, can you please pass that or any info onto me, police and family member,” the page read.

“Please share the hell out of this!”

Tasmanian man Thomas Courto and boat he was in are still missing. How did they just vanish?

By Damian McIntyre ABC

Nov 3 2021

The body of missing Tasmanian man Thomas Courto and the boat he and two other friends were travelling in are still missing after more than two weeks.

But how does a boat just vanish in Bass Strait without a trace?

Senior lecturer in oceans at the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies Dr Stuart Corney said it was like looking for a "needle in a haystack".

"I'm not surprised that the boat can disappear," he said.

Mr Courto and his two friends — Bree-Anna Thomas and Isaiah Dixon — failed to return from a day trip on the water in the north-west on October 18.

The bodies of Ms Thomas and Mr Dixon were found, washed ashore, near Table Cape two days later.

On Saturday, the 11-day search for Mr Courto's body and the boat was called off after a "comprehensive independent review".

Dr Corney believes the boat took on water and sank.

"You certainly hope that the boat is floating and the people are fine, so you assume it moves with the wind — but it turns out it had probably taken on water," Dr Corney said.

"It would have been moving with the current, potentially in the other direction, and all of a sudden it's 60 kilometres away from where you were targeting your search.

"Those currents can be around that 2-kilometres-an-hour speed."

Current will switch direction and may give up clues

Dr Corney said the speed of currents would make the search for the boat difficult.

"After a few days, the search radius is so great that it is very hard to find," he added.

Dr Corney is holding out hope the boat will be found, but that could be months away.

"In six months' time, that current will switch around and the boat will start moving in a different direction — so it may wash up or be discovered," he said.

Vessel could be wedged on the ocean floor, expert says

Waratah-Wynyard Mayor Robby Walsh said he was surprised the boat or any debris had not been found.

"It's just an absolute mystery that nothing's been located at this stage," he said.

He raised the possibility of the body and vessel being stuck under subsea shelves near the coastline.

"It may be where the vessel's trapped, who knows," he said.

"We wonder if it might have hit a whale, or something like that, we just don't know how the accident happened.

"While it's a terrible tragedy, we just need something to be found in regard to the vessel to give some closure."

Dr Corney said there was a possibility the vessel was wedged on the ocean floor.

"There are likely to be geographical features in that area and, if the boat is underwater and has sunk, and it's being slowly moved by the current, then it gets to a shelf like that, and it could well just be sitting there pushed up against it," he said.

Friends, family haven't given up hope

North-west commercial fisherman Pete Smith, who has been based at Wynyard for the past 27 years, said he was "surprised" the boat hadn't come to the shore yet.

"It's just the ocean. Some things happen real quick and then sometimes, for some reason, it takes longer," he said.

"But I am surprised that there hasn't been something of the boat come to the shore at this stage.

Mr Smith said he was not aware of any ocean shelves the boat could be stuck under in the area.

"Around Table Cape the rock formation doesn't go out very far at all, so you can virtually throw a stone off the rocks and it's sandy bottom," he said.

"There's a few bits of reef in the area but, predominantly, once you get out of Table Cape, there isn't anything out there for quite a while."

The sea search has been one of the biggest to have taken place on the north-west coast, and also the first time Tasmania Police had used the type of sonar technology employed to search the seabed.

However, Mr Walsh said locals were still searching the area.

"Friends and family haven't given up hope of finding something that will give some completion to the ordeal," he said.