Race to recover missing yachtsman as weather closes in
HERVEY Bay Water Police are leading the recovery operation of a man missing in the Coral Sea.
The 71-year-old New South Wales resident was reported missing, presumed overboard, from a 15m sailing yacht, which was anchored near the near Cato Reef on Saturday afternoon.
Police told the Chronicle the man's 23-year-old fellow passenger raised the alarm after waking to find he was alone on board.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority's Joint Rescue Coordination Centre conducted an aerial search of the yacht's location, about 260 nautical miles east of Yeppoon.
Officer in Charge of Hervey Bay Water police Sergeant Paul Bacon said as part of the response Queensland Police's PV Lyle M Hoey, a 24m catamaran, departed Yeppoon at 6am on Sunday with water police officers and members of the dive squad on board.
He said due to the remote location, PV Hoey arrived on scene 5am on Monday.
"Unfortunately the area out near Cato Reef is an extremely isolated location which means it take vessels a long time to get there. That means anyone in the water has to survive for a longer period of time for rescue vessels to arrive.
"At this stage unfortunately we have not been able to locate the man during search operations so far."
OIC Sgt Bacon said police were in regular contact with the families of both men, as well as the 23-year-old man onboard the yacht who is believed to be a friend of the missing man.
"We have already transitioned into a recovery competent of the search, the police vessel is still out there on scene at the moment, they will only have a limited time out there," he said.
"The priority now is to get everyone safe back into shore, with the weather that is closing in they will have to leave soon."
OIC Sgt Bacon said depending on weather, the vessels were expected back into Yeppoon on Tuesday afternoon.
"At this stage (we are) not planning to tow the yacht… the decision has been made by the skipper on scene the safest option is for the yacht to motor in," he said.
Hervey Bay water police will also be involved in the investigation that will form part of a report to the coroner.
OIC Sgt Bacon said with the rise of social media, hard to reach spots like Cato Reef had gained popularity with recreational boaties.
He reminded anyone planning trips to isolated areas to remember it could be a significant period of time before help could arrive and to make sure the vessel not only had the right equipment but also people on board with the right skills to self-help if needed.
It is believed the New South Wales men departed Scarborough in Redcliffe last Tuesday and travelled to the Cato Island and Cato Reef area.