Ex-detective survived 31 hours in the sea surrounded by sharks

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The Independent US

A retired policeman survived 31 hours in shark-infested waters after his boat capsized in an accident that cost the lives of two companions.

As he clung all night to the upturned keel, sharks circled nearby and the former head of Derby CID, Philip Harding, was convinced he was about to die. But his decision to stay with the boat saved his life.

He spoke of the horrific ordeal yesterday. "The feelings I have now are all over the place. I've had some hairy times as a policeman, but nothing like this, when common sense says you won't make it and all the odds are stacked against you," the 51-year-old said.

The former detective superintendent was acting as a consultant to the local police force on the eight populated islands. Together with 40 deserted isles, they make up the British Crown colony of the Turks and Caicos Islands, found about 40 miles south of the Bahamas. Mr Harding had gone on a fishing trip with three local officers off a "paradise" island near West Caicos.

But, just two hours into their trip, the boat was capsized by a freak wave and the men were thrown into the ocean. Two of the men, Inspector John Sutton and Sergeant Cromwell Warrican decided to swim the mile back to shore to get help.

Inspector Sutton's body, covered in shark bites, was found two days later. Sergeant Warrican has not been found.

The fourth man, Detective Sergeant Kingsley Laborde, opted to stay with Mr Harding, who is not a strong swimmer. It was a decision that saved both their lives.

Mr Harding said: "I said to Kingsley, 'This is a nasty situation. Set off and swim if you think you can make it back to the shore'.

"But 10 minutes later he came back, saying he couldn't leave me on my own. And it's a good job he did – he saved my life five times in the next 24 hours. It was a nightmare.

"In the night we could see sharks swimming around the boat. I couldn't grip, but luckily he gave me the courage to hang on. We were constantly being washed over by waves, and the sharks were all around. It was the longest night I have ever experienced."

By Sunday morning the boat was drifting further out to sea, unseen by search aircraft and helicopters, and sunburn and dehydration were setting in.

Mr Harding, whose wife Rosemary and son Jack, seven, were visiting the Caribbean from their home in Heage, Derbyshire, admitted: "We kept losing hope. We didn't think we could make it, but then our luck changed. By some sheer miracle the wind turned and started blowing us in the opposite direction."

A Cuban tugboat eventually rescued the exhausted pair.