As police divers resume their search for the bodies of men who died when their fishing trawler sank in Queensland, a sailor has recalled the miraculous rescue of survivor Ruben McDornan.
Rescuer and commercial fisherman Mal Priday told of 32-year-old Mr McDornan’s incredible survival after the fishing trawler he was on with six other men sank in Bustard Bay, north of the town of Seventeen Seventy on Monday.
Police halted their search for four of the other missing men off the sea-cucumber trawler Dianne on Saturday as darkness fell, but will resume the grim hunt at first light on Sunday.
The boat was detected by sonar about two or three nautical miles off Round Hill Headland on Friday. Police have not yet formally identified the two victims retrieved from the wreck.
Fishermen Ben Leahy, 45, Adam Bidner, 33, Adam Hoffman, 30, Zach Feeney, 28, Chris Sammut, 34, and Eli Tonks, 39, were missing following the tragic event.
Recounting the miraculous Tuesday morning rescue, Mr Priday told The New Daily of the warm embrace he received from Mr McDornan after pulling him from the two-metre waves he had been treading for more than seven hours.
“I’m not into hugging, but he gave me a hug I’ll never forget,” Mr Priday said.
“I’m just so happy to see you guys,” Mr McDornan told Mr Priday the moment he stepped onto the back step of the skipper’s 11.6-metre catamaran.
“He was so keen to see us and was propelling himself out of the water so we could see him,” Mr Priday recalled.
“There was relief mixed with utter sadness and concern for his mates.”
Wrapped in a blanket and taken into the cockpit of the catamaran, Mr McDornan told his rescuers he could hear his crew mates cries as he clung to the trawler’s upturned hull before it sank north of Bundaberg.
“He was on the upturned hull till about 11.30 [pm] until it sank underneath him. We picked him up another seven hours later,” Mr Priday said.
“For us to be in exactly the same spot… If we had been one or two degrees different on course… It all just came together at one time and we had him out of the water in four or five minutes.”
Mr Priday said Mr McDornan had been timing himself using his diving watch and alternating swimming strokes to keep his head above water without any debris or lifejacket to keep him afloat.
“The guy is very fit. He told us he had just run a half marathon.”
The retired skipper with extensive training from Volunteer Marine Rescue said he had only had the catamaran since Friday, October 13, after losing his former boat in a cyclone in the Whitsundays.
He said he and his wife Linda had spent two nights at the harbour of Seventeen Seventy and had recorded wind speeds of 35 knots the night Dianne sank.
Escaping the bad weather and on course for Pancake Creek, the married couple crossed paths with the missing Mr McDornan.
Mr McDornan told Mr Priday he had been asleep in the front cabin of the trawler when it capsized. He squeezed through a doorway on top of the boat and could hear his friends trying to get out.
Mr Priday said his wife, Linda, dressed the wounds of the trawlerman’s knee, which had been lacerated by marine growth on the underside of the boat.
“Sammy, his wife, called today,” Mr Priday told The New Daily on Saturday. “She expressed utter and complete gratitude and sent us hugs and kisses.”
Police Inspector Darren Somerville said divers were clearing debris from the wheelhouse and were starting to take their search below decks.
“There’s a lot of debris including mattresses, fridges freezers, blankets, lifejackets – everything you’d expect to see on the inside of a boat, which makes it extremely difficult for the divers to see,” he told reporters in Gladstone.
“It’s not the best scenario, we had hoped to clear the whole vessel today, that hasn’t happened.”
Inspector Somerville said the families of the missing men were being kept informed and were understanding of the difficulties facing divers.
“Obviously they’re upset and we’ll just see how it goes tonight with identification,” he said.
Police will guard the scene overnight with a 5km exclusion zone.
– With ABC