Parents still searching for daughter, 11 months after lost at sea

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - It's almost the one-year anniversary of Danielle Wright's disappearance. Her parents are business brokers in Lafayette. And since the historic schooner, Nina, vanished off the coast of New Zealand, they've become experts at fundraising and eloquent in pleading for help. Even  enlisting Country Music Star Hunter Hayes to help gather donations for the search.

Appearing in a professionally-lighted corner of a music studio, Hayes looked into the camera and said, "I'm calling on all my friends in Cajun Country to help us locate Danielle Wright."

Robin and Ricky Wright have become virtuosic at using internet and social media so that their search goes on. 9News lost count of the number of videos posted by caring people, the number of fundraising sites, the memes, the Facebook, Twitter, and other connections with help.

Danielle was part of a crew of seven.  She was a University of Louisiana at Lafayette student and 19-years-old in the summer when the Nina lost contact six days into a voyage from New Zealand to Australia. All are missing.

The Wrights also learned world politics. In the steady stream of world news coverage, they watch as the world mounts choppers, submarines, and satellites to search for the missing Malaysian jetliner. They say Danielle might've been found already if America had come to help the search, but the State Department repeatedly said 'No'....

"They banned the U.S. out of their waters, Robin said. "And they just corrected it, like, in December. They have a new treaty and the U.S. can come in their waters now. But it didn't help us in June when we needed the U.S. to help us!"

Ricky and Robin said they had contacted every member of Louisiana's delegation to Washington, D.C. Some had actually gone to the State Department on their behalf. The answers forwarded to Lafayette could be very diplomatic, and mention how intensely New Zealand has searched yet found nothing. But some were blunt and insinuated that relatives of the missing Malaysian Jetliner have accepted their loved ones are dead, and we sympathize with your moment of loss.

Danielle's parents don't yet accept that she might be dead.

Looking at a computer, Ricky calls up a Facebook page covered with beautiful pictures from New Zealand. "We would go in here and make postings.." he said, "This is the Bay of Islands near Opua where they sailed out of. It's like a big area, it's just a bunch of islands." Robin chimes in that it's "Rugged and beautiful."

Nina crew member Kyle Jackson had sent his mom a video he shot just before the Nina left on its journey. His mother's birthday would take place while he was gone, and he bubbled as he wished her a good time with relatives, and assured her he was with a good crew. In closing, he was very animated as gray skies gathered overhead. Talking directly into the camera, "Uh, I love you much.( pauses), and , oops! yep, Raindrop. Enjoy the day. I love you Mom! Bye-eeeeee!"

That raindrop might signal the gathering storm because they were well into the Tasman Sea when storms erupted.

The vanishing in the Tasman captured the attention of New Zealand, Australian, and British news agencies.

Meanwhile In Lafayette, people came up with their own fundraisers. Robin said she almost could not keep track of the spaghetti dinners, radiothons, and college campus fundraisers at ULL. There was a big benefit concert at the Blackham Coliseum September 7. Local artists played Zydeco and more and kids gathered at crafts tables and played air hockey. "Kingdom" a Lafayette band heard Danielle's story and Kim Roy wrote a song just for Danielle. They sat in chairs in front of the stage's black curtain with a guitar, mandolin and three singers. In three –part harmony they sang, "Girl of Adventure, Eyes filled with Kindness, One so courageous..."

When the government of New Zealand stopped searching the waters without success, the Wrights took over the search on their own.

Ricky Wright called the mother of Natalee Holoway because her daughter also disappeared on a foreign location. "I called Natalee Holloway when I started talking to Texas Equusearch to get her opinion of how they did ya know and so we talked a few times, and she supported my decision to go with them."

Texas Eqqusearch had scoured Aruba for Natalee. Equusearch launched their volunteers, scientists, and sleuths after Danielle. They called on volunteers nationwide to search satellite photos for signs of the Nina. They plowed through hundreds of satellite photos.

When they found one that COULD be the Nina, New Zealand didn't respond so the Wrights hired a plane and did their own grid pattern near the area where their satellite image led them to look. For an entire week out of Norfolk Island they searched. Was she still alive. Were they all still alive?

"The sad thing about searching is OK you can fly and the next day go out and Nina might've drifted back into the search area that you searched", Robin said. "So a moving target, you begin to see the impossibility of finding a boat like that."

The Wrights have a photo book from 2009, which is when they sold assets, mothballed their business, and bought a boat. Danielle was 16 and they homeschooled when they lived for 14 months at sea on the Caribbean.

Ricky smiled as he remembered, "Danielle has an adventurous spirit. You know, she uh since she was real young she would go up to the highest point of a tree and just relax up there. While we were sailing on our voyage, cruising voice,  she would climb cliffs just to be on the side of the mountain to be with the goats."

They said Danielle had learned to crew a sailboat and learned to love eating raw fish. She was strong and smart and resourceful. That's why they feel her survival these 11 months would not be out of the question. And as long as it's possible, the ribbon the color of Danielle's eyes will continue to hang outside the Wright home. There it will stay, long as they have hope of bringing back Danielle.

Sunday May 18 is Danielle's Birthday. She will be 20. The Wrights will host Danielle's friends for snacks and stories about her. They will place notes in a bottle that holds messages for Danielle. The Wrights say it will be a time of happiness.

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