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Six fishermen feared dead off boat screamed from inside as crewmate clung to hull

18 October 2017 2:24 AM
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Six fishermen feared dead off boat screamed from inside as crewmate clung to hull

BAD weather continues to hamper the search for six fishermen missing off the coast of central Queensland.

RACQ LifeFight Rescue chief operating officer Brian Guthrie said seven aircraft were involved in the search.

“There are numerous aircraft that are able to get out, but also some that are having to land again due to poor light and visibility,” he said.

The boat Dianne overturned near Middle Island, about 20km northeast of the Town of 1770, at 7.30pm on Monday before it sank about midnight.

Screams from trapped crewmen ­were heard by soul survivor found so far, Ruben McDornan, who spent 12 hours in heavy seas before he was plucked to safety after a yacht found him by sheer luck early yesterday.

The search for six men feared dead after their trawler capsized off the central Queensland coast continues.

Mr Guthrie, who went to school with missing trawler skipper Ben Leahy, said that despite the rough seas the water temperature was survivable.

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

Mr Guthrie said Mr Leahy had been working on the water for more than 20 years and was very experienced.

“It’s a very well-equipped boat, a large vessel, a trawler kitted out like everyone else meeting all the safety requirements, so it’s an excellent platform to be working off, and he’s obviously worked off of it for years so we’re really unsure of what may or may not have led to this,” he said.

Mr Guthrie said the case was still being treated as a search-and-rescue mission.

Meanwhile, families of the missing men have gathered gathered at Gladstone, where the search is being coordinated for six men still missing.

Relatives arrived in the town this morning on flights from Brisbane, clinging on to hopes the men could have survived a second night at sea in severe weather.

Police were awaiting the arrival of the relatives at the airport and drove them to Gladstone police station, where they were given a briefing just after 9am.

Family of the sole confirmed survivor, Ruben McDornan, also arrived in Gladstone on a later flight and was met by police.

His wife Sammy said her husband, who clung to the boat for several hours before it sank, was “sore but OK”.

“We’re really thankful to the people that rescued Ruben and to all the people out searching for the boys and just for everyone’s support. But unfortunately we don’t really have any other information,” Ms McDornan said through tears.

“We’re so grateful that he’s alive. But our thoughts are with the boys missing at the moment because they’ve all got family. So we just need everybody to keep positive for them.”

He has stayed in the Town of 1770, where roads have been flooded by the intense downpour, trying to help searchers pinpoint the location where the trawler capsized.

It’s believed the six who are missing were all below deck when the boat rolled in heavy weather. Wild weather continues to hinder the search.

It comes after the identity of a fourth man from the Cairns sea cucumber diving vessel Dianne was revealed. The names of two of the six have not been revealed.

Adam Hoffman, from Clifton Beach in Cairns, was named this morning, after Eli Tonks, Ben Leahy and Adam Bidner were named as among the missing yesterday.

Mr McDornan is understood to have heard his crewmates screaming and knocking from inside the overturned vessel as he held on to the hull from the outside.

He is then understood to have spent six hours in rough seas and screaming for help before his lucky rescue.

Close friends of Mr Hoffman said they were devastated by his disappearance and were hoping for a miracle, with one calling him a “survivor”.

Mr Hoffman’s sister Heidi Sargeant posted on Facebook asking people to keep her brother in their prayers.

“Pls (sic) pray for my brother who is lost at sea off the Gladstone coast somewhere after his trawler capsized last night,” she wrote.

“Come on Adam, the whole family is waiting for you to give us a call and tell us we are worrying about nothing!”

Gladstone Police Inspector Darren Somerville said a RACQ LifeFlight’s Bundaberg helicopter could not join the search this morning because of the tough conditions, the Gladstone Observerreports.

It was forced to turn back after only making it to Moore Park Beach, about 20km from its base.

The region has been hit by torrential rain, with mass road closures and flood warnings.

Inspector Somerville said a large police vessel ‘Conroy’ which could handle the conditions is on its way to the search area, near Bustard Heads and Middle Island.

A fixed wing aircraft joined the search this morning, but Insp Somerville said the visibility “is close to zero”.

Amphibious vehicle the 1770 LARC TOURS! is searching the shore line north of the Town of 1770 where debris was located washed ashore.

Wild weather yesterday hampered the search for the six beche-de-mer divers, the majority of who are believed to be from Cairns.

Skipper Ben Leahy, an experienced fisherman, was last night missing, along with crew members Eli Tonks, Adam Bidner and three others.

“We can only wait in hope, knowing he is strong and ­capable, would not panic, or give up,” Eli’s mother Jenny Tonks told The Courier-Mail last night.

Kay Bidner, the mother of missing man Adam Bidner, last night held back tears as she said: “Right now, we’re just together as a family and we’re praying.”

Search and rescue co-ordinator Sergeant Jeff Barnett said that investigators didn’t believe that any of the emergency position-indicating beacons on board the boat had been activated.

“It was only through sheer luck that a passing couple on a yacht managed to hear the screams of the individual that was rescued and he raised the alarm,” he said.

Mr Bidner’s sister, Jodie has reached out to her family and friends on social media asking them to keep her brother in their thoughts.

“Adam is strong, stubborn and fit and I’m hanging on to the fact that if anyone is a fighter it’s Adam Bidner.”

“It is with great difficulty I write this right now, but I need every ones hope and will to help my brother Adam who is currently one of the missing men off his trawler,” she said.

Police are understood to have told relatives that Mr Leahy was believed to have been in the engine room when the boat overturned and may have been electrocuted.

His parents, Patrick and Rosemary Leahy, travelled to 1770 from their Brisbane home yesterday afternoon after ­receiving the news and were reportedly told they should expect the worst.

Friends described Mr Leahy, who is single and has no children, as a “very likeable guy” who always has a smile on his face and loves the water.

Mr Leahy, who is in his early 40s and has three siblings, has worked in and around the ocean for most of his life.

He spent a long stint working for luxury pearl jeweller Paspaley as a diver.

He was born in Papua New Guinea, but has lived across Queensland for most of his life.

Mr Leahy’s friend Ronald Riley said: “He is a very successful fisherman and a safe one, so something must have happened to cause this.”

He said that the boat was an ex-scallop trawler, which had been converted into a slug boat.

“All on board are excellent swimmers and divers, so hopefully they have got to one of the islands of the bunker group,” he said.

Mr McDornan was understood to have received only minor injuries in the accident, but was being treated locally. His wife Sammy flew from Cairns to Brisbane yesterday afternoon for a connecting flight to Gladstone.

Her best friend, Selina Taylor, said there was enormous relief among family and friends that Mr McDornan had survived.

“We can’t believe that something like this has happened,” she told The Cairns Post.

“We’re very grateful that he is okay, but we’re obviously not celebrating because we still have friends on-board.

Police are investigating if the vessel was seeking shelter from wild weather in the Capricorn and Bunker Group of islands before it sank.

Inspector Darren Somerville said some of the search crews had experienced issues with rain and wind.

“We will continue to search as long as it is still safe for our people to do so,” he said.

Cairns Regional Council Mayor Bob Manning will fly to Gladstone this afternoon to attend a Local Government Association of Queensland conference.

He said the missing men and their families were in everybody’s thoughts back in Cairns.

“People go to work, and whether you’re patching roads or out on a fishing boat, you never expect something like this to happen.”

The sole confirmed survivor of the seven-man crew is former Cairns State High School student Ruben McDornan, believed to have survived for seven hours at sea before a couple on a passing yacht heard his cries for help.


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