SYDNEY - Forty-nine people were rescued Sunday after being found clinging to life rafts in the Solomon Islands, Australian officials said, around four days after their boat is believed to have sunk.
Australian authorities were called in to help in the aerial search on Friday after the island trading vessel MV Solfish 001 failed to arrive in the port of Lata as expected from the capital Honiara during the week.
But it was only late on Saturday, the second day of the search, that the life rafts were spotted and a Royal Australian Air Force AP-3C Orion was able to fly over and confirm there were 49 survivors.
All those on the vessel had survived, a spokesman for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) told AFP. They were from the Solomon Islands and included women and children, defence officials said.
The AMSA spokesman said the Solfish was believed to have been about 50 nautical miles from its destination when it ran into trouble.
Local reports in the Solomon Islands said the boat likely went down on Wednesday, the last day it reported to Solomon maritime authorities.
Australian defence officials said the Orion was critical in finding the survivors in the 6,000 square-kilometre (2,300 square-mile) search area, east-southeast of Honiara.
"The aircrew spent hours patiently working through the search zone and coordinating with other aircraft and vessels to firstly find the debris field and then confirm a possible sighting of life rafts," said chief of joint operations Lieutenant General Ash Power.
"About two hours after finding the debris, a civilian aircraft reported possible life rafts that were quickly confirmed through a low pass by the RAAF aircrew.
"The confirmation allowed surface vessels to be directed to the five life rafts and recover the 49 Solomon Islanders."
The rescue of the 49, including 10 women and six children, was completed early Sunday, Australian defence officials said.