Despite strong beliefs from New Zealand authorities that Danielle Wright is dead, the missing Louisiana girl’s family is not giving up hope that the 19-year-old is alive.
Wright, a native of Lafayette, La., has been missing at sea for eight months – the last time she and her crew on her sailboat, the Nina, used their satellite phones to communicate, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.
Although authorities in New Zealand believe the boat sank as a storm battered the Nina as it attempted to cross the Tasman Sea from New Zealand to Australia, Wright’s parents, Ricky and Robin Wright, are optimistic that their only child will be found.
"We cannot assume the boat sank without evidence, and we think it's highly likely that it did not," Robin Wright told the AP. "We know there's a chance the boat sank. There is a chance. But do you assume the worst and stop searching?"
The Wrights have spent $600,000 on private planes, hoping that Danielle and her boat will be viewed from above. Ricky Wright recently received his pilot’s license and wants to fly along the Australian coastline, thinking he’ll see Danielle’s boat or any clues as to what happened to his daughter.
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While Ricky Wright, 49, acknowledged that the chances his daughter is alive are slim, he said he and his wife will not give up on their child and her crewmates.
"After a year, I think the chances are down pretty low," Ricky Wright said to the AP. "But we will not give up on them. We know other people have survived up to a year."
Gerry Brownlee, New Zealand’s transport minister, said he met with the Wrights last month and told them that officials are not optimistic that Danielle is alive.
The Wrights “have enormous faith that the boat is still out there, that they're catching fish and fresh water, and will sooner or later make landfall,” he said. “Unfortunately, none of our very extensive and expert-led search efforts concur with that view.”
Danielle, who was homeschooled, fell in love with the sea as a younger teen when her family went sailing in the Caribbean several years ago. She became friends with David Dyche IV, a boy one year older than she who was raised on the Nina. The friendship eventually led to Danielle and her family being asked to be part of the Nina’s crew for a trip in New Zealand.
Danielle wound up on the ship when her college, the University of Louisana, went on break in May. She and the rest of the crew left New Zealand May 29 for Sydney but haven’t been seen since.