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TRAWLER TRAGEDY: Whitsundays crew saves fisherman

Mal and Linda Priday were part of the heroic crew who rescued Ruben McDornan on board the On The Level vessel on Tuesday morning.
Mal and Linda Priday were part of the heroic crew who rescued Ruben McDornan on board the On The Level vessel on Tuesday morning. Contributed

THE odds were stacked at "ten million to one", but that is all Ruben McDornan needed as Mal Priday and his crew plucked him from the water

They'd set sail for Pancake Creek aboard On The Level, amid boisterous and unpleasant windy conditions the morning after the trawler Dianne, carrying Ruben and his six mates sank north of 1770.

At 7am, Mr Priday's wife Linda Priday, heard a desperate cry for help, and a quick scan of the sea led to an epic rescue mission unlike any that the Pridays and their crewmates, Linda's brother Barry Harding and Bowen friend Lyn Chalmers had ever experienced before.

Ruben, 31 from Cairns, was sighted in the water 5.6km offshore, wearing nothing but shorts, and the crew knew they had to act fast.

"Linda and I are both commercial skippers and we knew we couldn't take our eyes off him and needed to keep pointing at him," Mr Priday said.

"I have been with VMR for 17 years, and that training paid off because we had him on board in 3-4 minutes. He slipped off the first time, and we threw (lifesaving equipment) to him and the second time around Barry Harding grabbed him.

"It's fair to say he fell into Barry's arms with a huge hug of relief."

 

Ruben McDornan suffered cuts, bruises and was suffering from exposure after spending 12 hours in rough seas.
Ruben McDornan suffered cuts, bruises and was suffering from exposure after spending 12 hours in rough seas.

Ruben's first reaction was to say "he was so happy to see" the rescue crew, and to emotionally reflect on the six other people on board, whose fates are yet to be confirmed.

"He was very emotional when talking about the boat and his mates, so we tried to change the subject to get him talking about his family and home," Mr Priday said.

The crew immediately offered Ruben a blanket, food and hot drinks while Linda applied first aid to a knee wound.

A Mayday call was immediately issued, and Ruben was picked up by a Gladstone police boat at 9.45am.

Mr Priday said the experience could only be described as a miracle.

>>>READ MORE: Heartfelt message as search for six men continue

>>>READ MORE: TRAGIC: 'Window of survivability' passes for fishermen

 

The men missing at sea.
The men missing at sea. Newscorp

"The odds of us being in exactly the right spot going exactly the right speed was one in ten million. 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 said.

"I 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."

The trawler capsized and floated upside down from 7.30pm on Monday night, and completely sunk below the surface by midnight.

 

Ruben's "incredible fitness" is what saved his life through the ordeal, as he alternated between breaststroke and backstroke over the seven hour time gap between the sinkage and rescue.

"He was wearing shorts and had no life jacket, he is remarkably fit and that saved his life," Mr Priday said.

"We picked him up 20 miles from where the boat capsized, and the boat would have drifted some way as well.

"The tide was turning as we picked him up, so we are not sure how successful he would have been getting to shore."

Investigations are continuing into the incident.

Topics:  fishing gladstone hero missing men search and rescue vmr whitsunday


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