Smoke sighting leads to successful search in the Marlborough Sounds

A plume of smoke led Coastguard Marlborough volunteers to the remarkable rescue of a group of three who had spent the night stranded on Arapawa Island in the Queen Charlotte Sound.

In mid-October, TikTok influencer and outdoor adventurer Brando Ferguson, his cousin Helana and partner Caleb embarked on a fishing and diving adventure in the Marlborough Sounds. However, as the group headed home, their vessel experienced mechanical issues, and with fading fuel and light, the decision was made to make land as soon as possible.

As with several spots in Queen Charlotte Sound, the group landed in a cellphone blackspot and were unable to call for help. Their VHF radio, also low on battery, quickly went flat as well - leaving them stranded on Arapawa Island.

With the group reported overdue by their whānau and friends, Coastguard Marlborough launched both its vessels, Bluebridge Rescue and Port Marlborough Rescue at first light with seven volunteers tasked. With limited information about where the group could be across the expansive sounds or a vessel description, volunteers used local knowledge of common fishing and diving spots as well as mobile blackspot locations to narrow the search.

Within several hours of searching, volunteers aboard Port Marlborough Rescue spotted smoke on-shore, with Brando and his group letting off one of their last flares to signal their location. While fatigued, the group was in good spirits and happy to see Coastguard volunteers arrive who then maneuvered the 4.8m stabicraft back into the water and towed it home to safety.

Coastguard Marlborough President Rob Carpenter said the search and rescue effort was a great example of training and preparation coming into practice.

"Our volunteers have exceptional knowledge of the Marlborough Sounds - with one of our young volunteers Kelsie's eagle eyes spotting the smoke that led us to the group," he said.

"We're delighted that this search had a good outcome and we were able to get Brando and his group back to their whānau."

Read more about the group’s night on the island and rescue here - 


For more information, contact:
Ben Parsons
Coastguard New Zealand Senior Communications Advisor
[email protected]

Thanks to our life-saving partners:
  • Auckland Council
  • Northland Regional Council
  • Waikato Regional Council
  • Hutchwilco
  • Marine Deals
  • Tower
  • Kordia
  • Hyundai
  • Line7
  • Century Batteries
  • Half Moon Bay
  • NZCT
  • Lotteries Grants Board
  • Lion Foundation
  • Pub Charity