The parents of an Australian child who was missing in Papua New Guinean waters for more than 36 hours are relieved she’s been found safe and well on a remote island.
- Lilycae Kilvert is not normally allowed on the banana boats, but her father made an exception
- Sailing conditions in the area were dangerous and the water can be up to 4km deep
- Authorities have warned locals to pay attention to weather warnings and tell others where they are going
Five-year-old Lilycae Kilvert set off in a dinghy from Buka, the capital of Bougainville island, with her grandmother, their dog and 11 other passengers on Wednesday morning.
But their boat failed to arrive at Nissan Island, where it was headed.
It wasn’t until late on Thursday evening that Lilycae’s father, Andrew Kilvert, found out his youngest daughter was missing.
“We were all worried,” he said.
“Normally, I absolutely forbid my children getting in these banana boats.
“But she was just so excited to go with her Grandma back to the island, that I said, ‘Well look, it’s really calm weather conditions … so I will make an exception this time.’
“And anyway, it was the wrong exception.”
Mr Kilvert, who is Australian but has lived in Bougainville for 30 years, said sailing conditions in the area were extremely dangerous, with the sea up to 4 kilometres deep.
“You’ve got a chain of volcanoes that are hanging out of deep oceans, they get huge currents that are swirling through, and so it’s difficult to predict the drift,” he said.
Mr Kilvert owns a boating service in Bougainville and said he often had to rescue people in dinghies.
On Friday morning, he was loading food and petrol onto his boat, ready to start searching for Lilycae and the other travellers.
But just as he was about to leave, a call came through saying the boat had arrived on another island about 50km north of where it had been headed.
Mr Kilvert said he and his wife, Imelda, cried “tears of joy” at the good news.
“Happy … we were very happy. We’re gonna go and get my little Lily and bring her back home,” he said.
Yesterday afternoon, Mr Kilvert set off on the 20-hour overnight trip to the Feni Islands, to retrieve his daughter.
Lilycae’s older brother Darcy, who lives in Newcastle, in New South Wales, said it was a huge relief.
“We are so lucky. I’m glad my sister is OK,” he told the ABC.
While it’s a happy ending for the Kilvert family, the incident has sparked reminders for others to be careful at sea.
Bougainville’s Police Commissioner Francis Tokura says this wasn’t the first time a boat had gone missing in the province.
“It’s about time people listen to the strong wind warnings, and they must also have safety gear on their boats, flares and vest as well, so when the boat sinks, at least they can float,” he said.
He also said people should tell authorities where they were going before travelling by boat.