Australians lost in PNG waters after fishing boat sinks
AN Australian national is among three men lost at sea and presumed dead after their fishing boat sank off the coast of Papua New Guinea.
A sole survivor, in hospital recovering from hypothermia, was only rescued after frantically flagging down a search helicopter using his shirt.
The terrified men, two employees from accountancy giant KPMG - one of whom is an Australian father-of-three - and two locals, were cast adrift yelling for help in the Gulf of Papua.
However, their fight for survival was short-lived in hard winds gusting to 35 knots.
The engine of the group's fibreglass game-fishing boat experienced problems while it was anchored off the island of Idihi, 25km west of the country's capital Port Moresby, where the men were fishing with rods.
"In no time, water leaked into the boat, dragging it 20 metres towards the bottom of the ocean, casting them all out to sea," a witness said.
"There were only two life jackets on board and the Fijian Indians had them on, but only one of the locals was strong enough to swim to shore.
"It all happened so fast.
"They did not even have a chance to radio a mayday call.
"The fear is growing that if they are not found by the morning, they must have been swept out to sea ... or hypothermia will get them."
Onlookers say the exhausted survivor had scrambled on to the shore when a helicopter pilot dispatched to search for the missing friends flew past and failed to spot him.
It is understood the panicked man wrote "help" in the sand and waved down the helicopter with his shirt to catch the pilot's attention when he flew past a second time.
He is now recovering from hypothermia at a local hospital and helping police with their inquiries.
An extensive search and rescue operation was launched on Saturday night after the boat left the Royal Papua Yacht Club in Port Moresby.
Treacherous sea conditions have hampered rescuers' attempts to locate the vessel.
At nightfall yesterday the search was called off. It was due to resume at first light today.
However, police fear the missing men will not survive a second night at sea.
The Australian national is said to be a managing partner at KPMG and a father of three children.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has offered consular assistance to his family.
"An Australian man is missing following a boating accident in PNG. Owing to our privacy obligations we cannot comment further," a spokeswoman said.
A spokeswoman for KPMG added: "A search is continuing to locate the men. At this stage, details are very sketchy."