Rescued just as the sharks were circling
By DARRYN NUFER
TWO fishermen clung to a small inflatable life raft for more than five hours yesterday with sharks circling, after their trawler sank off the Capricorn Coast.
Forty-year-old Steven Ross, skipper of the 16-metre timber prawn trawler, Mistral, and his deckhand Anthony Williams, 27, both of Southport, were winched to safety uninjured about 11am.
Their boat and most of their possessions lay at the bottom of the sea, about 64km north-east of Herron Island (about 150km east of Rockhampton).
"I've never been so happy to see someone in my life,'' Mr Ross said about seeing the Townsville-based rescue helicopter which found them.
Shortly afterwards the Capricorn Helicopter Rescue Service's new twin-engine IFR Dauphin chopper, making it's maiden rescue, arrived.
In charge of being winched down the wire to the life raft was senior aircrew officer Paul Tongue.
"We could see wreckage strewn around them (fishermen),'' Mr Tongue said.
"They were pointing at something but it wasn't until I got down to the water to swim to the raft I realised they were trying to tell us there was a shark.''
Mr Ross, a professional fisherman of 25 years, said a number of large sharks, including one he estimated to be 4.5 metres, began circling after they released their EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) into the water.
"They must have been attracted to the beeping (noise made by the EPIRB),'' Mr Ross said.
At one stage he wound in the device, connected to the raft, fearing one of the sharks would try to bite it.
"It was our best chance to get out of there, we didn't want to lose it.''
Later, the fishermen saw a pod of whales approaching.
"We're in like a raft that's four square feet,'' Mr Ross said.
"I was just hoping they (whales) didn't want to scratch their backs.
"I've never been so scared in all my life, hey.
"You can laugh about it now, but I tell ya, we weren't laughing out there.''
Mr Ross had been making a corn beef sandwich, about 5.30am, when the vessel hit an unknown submerged object.
He immediately woke Mr Williams, who prepared the raft. "The water was gushing in,'' Mr Ross said.
"I lost everything I had on there ? photo albums, personal items. It just happened so quick.''
Both men were flown home last night and looking forward to seeing their girlfriends.
Speaking at Rockhampton Airport they were full of praise for their rescuers.
"Those guys were terrific. I can't speak highly enough about them. They made us feel so safe. They even had a couple of jokes with us,'' Mr Ross said.
"We found out they get no government funding ...