Fugitives on the high seas were captured on Monday with the help of a sailing enthusiast website. Paul James Bennett, an unlicensed helicopter pilot who formerly worked for famed actor Russell Crowe, and Bennett’s partner Simone Ann Wright, had been at large for more than nine months. They are now charged with fraud, theft, and sexual assault of a teenage girl.
The couple had stolen a yatch from The Bay of Islands, New Zealand two weeks ago. The fugitives had sailed north of Sydney Australia roughly 1200 miles away, when they were first spotted. The ship was seen and photographed through the binoculars of a member of the website livesaildie.com, which had posted about the theft. Live Sail Die coordinated an avenue for new information about the stolen ship to be communicated to the owner, who upon seeing his ship in the photos, immediately identified his yacht and informed the authorities. Less than three hours later, the couple was in police custody. Live Sail Die CEO Suellen Hurling states:
“I am extremely pleased with the efforts of our enthusiastic followers which assisted greatly with the capture of two wanted fugitives who stole the yacht Harlech from Opua 10 days ago.”
Russell Crowe had hired Bennett in 2000 after Bennett landed his helicopter unannounced on his New Zealand farm and asked Crowe for a job. Impressed by his pluck, Crowe hired him to fly him from his New Zealand Farm and Sydney Australia. At the time, Crowe was not aware that Bennett was unlicensed. Bennett was eventually dismissed by Crowe in 2003 for creating media rumors about the oscar winning actor. He had also used photos of him with Crowe to try and secure loans.
In 2003, Bennett was charged with fraud in Australia and was scheduled to appear in court in Sydney, but disappeared. He was also charged with defrauding a helicopter company of $NZ250,000 ($180,000 USD) and the sexual assault of a teenager in the late 2000s.
Fortunately, for the yacht’s owner, the boat was left in relatively good condition and will be returned to him in New Zealand.