The sole survivor of a fishing tragedy that has left six men presumed dead has opened up about the horrific hours he spent treading water at sea, fearing the same fate as his friends.
Ruben McDornan, 32, was one of seven men aboard cucumber trawler ‘Dianne’ when it capsized off the Queensland town of Seventeen Seventy on Monday night.
He managed to escape the sinking vessel by fitting through a tiny gap in a door before clambering to the hull of the boat.
The Queensland fisherman was helplessly tossed around on the rainy and cloudy evening, sadly ‘hearing his friends inside trying to get out.’
Commercial fisherman Mal Priday and his wife Linda heard Mr McDornan’s desperate cries for help as he entered his eighth hour treading water in horrendous seas.
‘He said he doesn’t know how he got out through a gap that small, but he got out,’ Mr Priday told The Courier-Mail.
‘Unfortunately, his mates behind him were unable to do the same.’
Adam Bidner, 33, Chris Sammut, 34, Eli Tonks, 39, Zach Feeney, 28 and 45-year-old skipper Ben Leahy are presumed dead.
The bodies of two of the six men were retrieved on Saturday and the search resumed on Sunday.
But, after locating and searching the ship’s wreckage and surroundings, police divers found no sign of the men by Sunday afternoon.
The bodies of the two men recovered have been identified but names have not been released as next-of-kin continue to be notified. Friends confirmed one was crewman Adam Hoffman.
Coastline patrols will now search on foot, by boats and planes for the remaining men.
Mr Priday called the odds of Mr McDornan surviving as ‘incalculable,’ particularly as he pulled the 32-year-old out of the water with ‘not even a piece of debris to hang on to.’
‘I’m not into hugging, but he gave me a hug I’ll never forget,’ Mr Priday told The New Daily.
‘There was relief mixed with utter sadness and concern for his mates.’
Mr Priday said the exhausted fisherman’s first words to his rescuers were: ‘I’m just so happy to see you guys.’
Mr Priday, who was sailing with his wife Linda and two other crewmates, said it was a ‘one in ten million’ chance that they crossed paths with the sole known survivor.
‘If there was a one or two degree change in course or if we were travelling at a different speed, we wouldn’t have met him at the time we did,’ he told the Whitsunday Times.
‘I’ve pulled people out of the water before but have never been in a situation like that in the middle of the ocean in rough conditions with a guy in the water saying come and get me.
‘I’m not looking forward to it happening again either. The timing of the whole thing was remarkable.’
Mr McDornan’s wife Sammy took to Facebook on Friday to thank her husband’s rescuers after an emotional reunion.
‘We got our boy back yesterday, and he is doing OK considering everything that has happened,’ she wrote.
‘Our love, thoughts and hope are with our slugger families still without their boys, please keep them in your thoughts. Thank you all so very very much!’
Gladstone Police Inspector Darren Somerville said the two bodies had been brought back to shore for identification after they were pulled from the boat on Saturday.
‘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 said on Saturday.
‘It’s not the best scenario, we had hoped to clear the whole vessel today, that hasn’t happened.’
Police used sonar equipment to locate the Dianne about two-to-three nautical miles off Round Hill Headland on Friday afternoon.
The vessel is about 30 metres underwater and was being guarded overnight with a 5km exclusion zone.
Inspector Somerville said the families of the missing men were being kept informed and were understanding of the difficulties facing divers.