Survivor tells of friends' deaths

Tragedy on the Tay: Man clings to plastic tub for 17 hours to stay alive
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The Independent Online
A man who spent more than 17 hours clinging to a plastic tub in cold seas after watching three of his friends drown yesterday relived his dramatic fight for life.

The group had left on Saturday morning on a boat trip between Newburgh, Fife, and Arbroath across the Tay Estuary, but ran into difficulties three hours into their journey when their 25ft cabin cruiser hit a sandbank and was engulfed by waves.

Jim Miller, a 44-year-old father of four, Gerald Bruce, 58, and his son Ian, 26, and Mr Miller's best friend, Alan Jones, 50, all from Arbroath, left the boat in an attempt to walk across the sandbank to reach the shore, which they could see.

Recovering at home from his ordeal, Mr Miller recalled: "The water was only about knee high and we could see the shore so we headed across the sandbank. It suddenly disappeared and we had to swim in the deeper water. Gerry had the life ring and we all had plastic canisters. Then this thick mist came in from nowhere and we couldn't see a thing - the waves were coming in all directions."

Mr Miller spoke of the moment the first man - Gerald Bruce - died. "We made a conscious decision to stay together and there was no panic. Later on, Gerry died so we still kept going. His son was getting weaker all the time so we moved Gerry out of the ring and tied him to his son, who we then put in the ring, but about an hour after that his son died. It was agonising to watch this but we tied their wrists together and left them at a marker. We couldn't do anything else.

"Me and my mate Alan kept going and we just told jokes to keep going. But his heart gave up and he just keeled over and I couldn't get him wakened - he was gone. I was pulling him but I was getting really tired and I was going to put him in the life ring. I took his belt off but that's when I lost him. I just couldn't get a hold of him."

Asked how he had managed to survive the 17 hours, Mr Miller replied: "The lifeboat crew said my fat would have helped - and the will to live.

"I was thinking about what was happening, things that were coming up and just about the kids and wife - anything just to keep my mind off it."

Mr Miller then recalled the moment when the Broughty Ferry lifeboat spotted him through the mist. "I was just fighting all the time but towards the end I had given up hope and then I heard someone shouting and the lifeboat was behind me. I was just delighted to see it."

After his rescue, coastguards criticised the lack of safety equipment on board the boat. Mr Miller's survival suit, which he uses on inshore fishing trips, was left at home and the boat did not have distress flares or lifejackets.

Mr Miller said: "The boat was more or less being sorted at the time and it was just the shell with an engine inside. We were not expecting anything to happen like this. I didn't know what was on the boat because I was not expecting to go on the trip. I only decided to go at the last minute."

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