FRANTIC SEARCH: Inspector Owen King, of Byron Bay police, illustrating to the media the%area where the trawler is believed to h
FRANTIC SEARCH: Inspector Owen King, of Byron Bay police, illustrating to the media the%area where the trawler is believed to h

Man swims 10 hours in rescue bid

By Brian Bigg, Rachel Afflick and Emma O'Neill A 39-YEAR-OLD trawler deckhand swam for more than 10 hours to reach shore after his boat sank off Byron Bay in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

The crewman, whose name has not been released, staggered ashore at New Brighton, north of Brunswick Heads, just after 4pm where he was found by a male beach walker.

He told the man he had been in the water since six o'clock in the morning. He said he and two other crew were thrown into the water when their boat sank suddenly. He left his two crewmates in the early hours of the morning to go for help.

The last time he saw them they were clinging to what police described as a 'flotation device', believed to be the lid of the trawler's fish box.

The crewman was taken to Mullumbimby hospital and treated for exhaustion and dehydration. A large contingent of media from Brisbane and Sydney camped out front of the hospital last night hoping to interview the survivor.

Police and rescue authorities began an immediate massive search involving Volunteer Rescue Association and the Marine Area Command boats and the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter.

The search started where the trawler, believed to be the Sea Rogue out of Yamba, went down about seven nautical miles off Byron Bay.

What caused the boat to sink was not clear last night. According to other trawler operators in the area, the boat's net snagged on a reef, but there was also a report from boat owners at Yamba the boat might have been run over by a container vessel in the dark.

About 6pm, boats from the Ballina trawler fleet also joined the search. One Ballina trawlerman said they were angry they had not been alerted earlier to the drama so they could have begun searching while there was still more daylight. They will continue through the night.

"Imagine if that was us in the water," one said.

They reported the current was south-westerly at 2 knots and sea conditions calm. The water temperature was around 25 degrees.

The crew of the Care Flight helicopter found debris in the water about 6.30pm, but no sign of the missing men.

Uniformed police also patrolled every beach between Evans Head and Ocean Shores without success.

The search continued until dark. An aircraft from Brisbane with an infra-red camera was expected to enter the search area last night.

An electronic buoy was also dropped into the search area just on dark to allow satellite tracking of the current.

A Water Police vessel from Coffs Harbour was also heading to the area. The search was due to resume at first light today. Police have set up a command centre at Byron Bay police station to co-ordinate the effort.

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