Stranded fisherman saved after friend's 10-hour swim

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The Independent Online

John Jarrett, a fisherman for many years, never wants to go back to sea. He can hardly be blamed. Mr Jarrett was rescued yesterday after 30 hours in shark-infested waters, after his friend swam for 10 hours to raise the alarm.

Their trawler sunk on Wednesday after its nets snagged on a reef nine miles off the coast of northern New South Wales. Michael Williams, 39, crawled ashore near Brunswick Head, 10 hours later, exhausted, dehydrated, sunburnt and bloodied. An air and sea rescue operation was launched, and Mr Jarrett, 41, was spotted by a helicopter yesterday morning, about 10 miles east of the town of Ballina.

Rescuers failed to find the boat's third occupant, its skipper, Charlie Picton, aged 40, and police have now called off the search, saying he was unlikely to be alive.

Mr Jarrett spent 30 hours clinging to a cool box, initially together with Mr Picton. When night fell, the pair became separated in the darkness. He said he believed a rescue helicopter had flown over them during the day without spotting them. Yesterday, as he recovered from dehydration and hypothermia in Ballina hospital, Mr Jarrett told friends that he had kicked and paddled while clinging to the cool box. "I wasn't going to die out there, mate," he reportedly said. One of the helicopter crew said they saw dozens of sharks as they searched the area.

His sister, Rosemary Jarrett, said: "I never gave up. I knew he would come through. I just knew it." She said he was in a surprisingly good state. "He's a shade browner," she added.

A spokesman for the family, Mark McMurtrie, said: "Every time the esky [Australian slang for cool box] got a bit too much water in it, he'd have to sort of hold Charlie up in one hand and hold the esky up out of the water with the other, and then put it back down so it was full of air again."

After his marathon swim, Mr Williams was found on New Brighton beach by John Gort, who was walking his dog. Mr Gort said: "He had pretty bad cuts and bruises to his legs and his arms. He was pretty exhausted, pretty badly sunburnt. There was blood all over the sand and on his legs. But he was smiling, and he was just glad to be alive."

Mr Williams, a deckhand and father of three, was under sedation yesterday in Mullumbimby Hospital. His mother, Fay, told Brisbane's Courier-Mail newspaper that he was "faring pretty well". "He is very strong, he has wonderful survival skills," she said, adding that he had swum a long distance to shore just before Christmas, after being injured in a kite-surfing accident.

Mr Picton is well known in the local fishing fraternity, and fishing trawlers yesterday joined the official search, which included 10 helicopters. "He's a really, really good fisherman... a nice young bloke," one friend, Russell Creighton told reporters yesterday.

The men's 60ft trawler, Sea Rogue, capsized and sank within minutes of its nets becoming entangled on the reef. The men were asleep in the cabin when the accident happened and had to escape out of a window as the ship went down.