Fri, Feb 29, 2008 - Page 5 News List

Australian fisherman swims 12 hours to raise alarm after trawler goes down

AGENCIES , SYDNEY AND CANBERRA

A fisherman swam 12 hours to reach the shore while another survived 30 hours at sea until a helicopter spotted him yesterday after their trawler sank off the Australian coast, rescuers said.

A third man is still missing.

Their trawler sank after hitting a reef 15km off the mid-northeast coast of Australia before dawn on Wednesday morning, prompting a major search and rescue operation.

The alarm was first raised on Wednesday afternoon after Michael Williams, 39, crawled ashore near Brunswick Heads, exhausted, dehydrated and bloodied, some 12 hours after his ship sank.

"He had pretty bad cuts and bruises to his legs and his arms, he was pretty exhausted, pretty badly sunburnt," said Chris Gort who helped the fisherman on the beach.

"He's very strong," his mother, Fay Williams, told reporters yesterday outside Ballina District Hospital where he is recovering in the town of Mullumbimby.

A second fisherman, John Jarratt, was plucked from the sea by a rescue helicopter about 15km northeast of the fishing town of Ballina, 30 hours after he was thrown into the ocean.

Jarrett, in his 40s and a father of three, told Ten network from his hospital bed that he never doubted he would survive.

"I've got a determination like no other person," he said.

Jarratt told friends he would "never" go back in the ocean, local media reported.

Jarratt said he and skipper Charlie Picton, 40, had both clung to a foam cooler called an "esky" after the ship went down, but in the darkness the two became separated.

He said a search party helicopter had apparently flown right above the men without spotting the exhausted pair.

"Judging that the second fisherman survived through the night ... we can only hope that the same has occurred with the third," said Roger Fry, a spokesman for a Lifesaver Rescue Helicopter service.

Tracey Jiggins, spokeswoman for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which is coordinating the search, said 10 planes and helicopters were searching 960km2 of ocean for the lost captain.

"A lot of our trawlers are up there participating in the search," friend Russell Creighton said. "He's a really, really good fisherman -- a nice young bloke. Like everyone, I'm waiting to hear the news."

Police said they would search until nightfall for Picton, holding out hope he may still be alive as sea conditions were calm and the temperature was warm.

The trawler's nets became snagged on a reef before dawn on Wednesday and sank within minutes, Ten reported.

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