News State QLD News Missing trawler crew have ‘best shot at survival due to experience’
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Missing trawler crew have ‘best shot at survival due to experience’

Trawler Diane
A search of the sunken trawler failed to find the bodies of the missing fishermen. Photo: Queensland Police
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The family of the skipper of a trawler that sank off central Queensland says if there had been a way to escape the sinking boat, he and his crew had the experience to do so.

The family of the missing “safety-conscious” skipper of a trawler that sank off central Queensland say he ran a dry boat and would have equipped his crew with the skills to survive in.

Hopes are fading for six fishermen including Adam Bidner, Adam Hoffman, Eli Tonks and Ben Leahy who have been missing in waters after their trawler capsized on Monday night.

Trawler Ben Leahy
Skipper Ben Leahy was on watch when the boat capsized. Photo: Facebook

The sea cucumber trawler went down in Bustard Bay, north of the town of Seventeen Seventy.

Police said despite some debris being recovered there was no sign of the missing crew members.

Jodie Bidner, the sister of Adam, wrote on Facebook:

“I need every one’s hope and will to help my brother Adam, who is currently one of the missing men off his trawler. Adam is strong, stubborn and fit and I’m hanging on to the fact that if anyone is a fighter it’s Adam Bidner,” she said

A seventh man, Ruben McDornan, was rescued on Tuesday after clinging to the trawler’s upturned hull and he could hear his crewmates trying to get out.

The ABC understands Mr McDornan was in bed asleep when the boat capsized.

According to Mr McDornan’s Facebook profile, he is married and attended Cairns State High School.

The skipper of the trawler, who is one of the six who are missing, is Ben Leahy, who was on watch when the boat capsized.

According to his social media accounts, Mr Leahy studied at the Australian Maritime College and attended Nudgee College in Brisbane’s north between 1986 and 1990.

Lifeflight Chief Executive Officer Brian Guthrie, who is co-ordinating the helicopters that are part of the search, knew Mr Leahy as they had gone to school together.

“He’s always been in boats and around the water diving and things like that ever since I’ve known him,” he said.

“He’s very experienced in the water and I expect his crew would be exactly the same, so if anyone is going to give it their best shot for the best outcome, these guys would be it.

“We’re very hopeful and our crew will continue to search until we get some good news here.”

Mr Guthrie said Ben Leahy was a “great mate”.

“There has been a whole lot of positive thoughts out there and we are very hopeful,” he said.

He said Mr Leahy was a “very professional operator” having also worked in pearl and abalone industries.

“Throughout Australia, well over 20 years, [he’s spent] a long time doing this, straight out of school is when Ben started working on boats,” he said.

“[He’s] the most experienced person I know and if I was ever going out in the water it would be with Ben.”

A family member of Mr Leahy told the ABC he was very safety conscious and did not take risks at sea.

They said he was an experienced skipper and ran a dry boat – no drugs and alcohol and all the crew were fit.

The family member said if there had been a way to get out of the boat, they would have because they were so experienced at diving and free-diving.

Mr Leahy had worked his way up to head pearl diver at Paspaley and got into sea slugging after that.

The family member said it was a very good sea boat, fitted out with all the safety gear and would have been able to handle big wind.

Lifeflight CEO Brian Guthrie
Brian Guthrie (r) from Lifeflight is old school friends with missing skipper Ben Leahy. Photo: ABC

Poor visibility hampers search as area expanded

An air-and-sea search resumed at first light on Wednesday morning.

Bureau of Meteorology spokesman Sam Campbell said conditions for the search today were not ideal but better than Tuesday.

“The rainfall won’t be as heavy and the winds won’t be as strong, but there is quite a lot of energy in the sea at the moment because we’ve had some really strong winds over the last couple of days — so it will be a bit choppy out there, unfortunately,” he said.

Mr Guthrie said poor visibility was making it difficult.

“[There are] really challenging conditions for all the crew out there and there’s been extra aircraft added today but the weather needs to clear for us to get out there and resume the search,” he said.

“We resumed at 6:30 this morning but our aircraft out of Bundaberg had to land right on the coast just south of Moore Park beach — so they’re just waiting.

He said there would be six helicopters and one plane involved in the search.

“The search area continues to expand the longer the search goes on due to the weather conditions – tides, drift and things like that,” Mr Guthrie said.