By MARY MANN
CLIFF CORBETT shouted desperately for his two mates as he directed his vessel towards flames engulfing their sinking trawler.
"Where are ya' mate?" he yelled, wondering if his fellow fishermen were still alive.
Cliff spotted the burning trawler operated by owner Garry Joblin and his deckhand Sean Cameron several kilometres off Ballina's Shelly Beach about 3am yesterday. The fire injured the two men on board and completely destroyed the trawler, which later sank.
Cliff, a local crab fisherman, was on his way out to get his daily catch when he saw what looked like a sunrise.
"I saw pink in the sky, and thought, gee, it's a bit early for the sun to be coming up," he recalled yesterday.
"As I made my way closer, I realised it was flames." When he reached the burning vessel he recognised it as his mate's trawler, the Pacific Star.
Meanwhile, other trawlers in the area on hearing about the fire on their two-way radios also started heading towards the blazing vessel.
"When I got there it was all burning, it was well alight," Cliff said.
"I started yelling and thought about jumping onboard to pull the guys out, but when I got closer I saw there was no way I could get on because the deck had burnt away.
"I just kept yelling their names." Cliff then heard an emergency horn sounded by Garry and Sean, and used his spotlight to find the two men in a dinghy more than 800 metres away.
"They were both really%shaken up, and in shock big time," Cliff said.
"I was so happy to see them, I gave them a big hug and a kiss."
Cliff gave the injured, sopping wet men a towel, a beanie and a jumper to keep them warm and notified another trawler, which took them ashore. He said he was unable to take the dinghy himself because of the type of boat he had.
Garry's brother, John Joblin, said the men had been trawling off Shelly Beach when they smelt smoke.
Realising their boat was on fire, they grabbed a dinghy off the roof, threw it overboard and jumped into the water%after it.
In the process Garry hurt his shoulder and Sean suffered burns to his arm, body and a small burn to his face. They were treated at Ballina District Hospital yesterday, and were in too much shock to talk to The Northern Star.
The trawler, which has been used to launch plastic ducks on the Richmond River for Ballina's annual Corporate Duck Race, was completely destroyed and sank just before 6am.
Garry Meredith, captain of Ballina Jet Boat Rescue, said the only thing that could be retrieved from the boat was a gas cylinder found bobbing in the water.
It is uncertain how the fire started. Police are investigating the incident.