Search called off for trawler skipper
By Brian Bigg and Mary Mann
CHARLIE PICTON would have been 40 in May. Yesterday his family was forced to admit he's been lost at sea.
The popular Yamba trawler skipper hasn't been seen since he and his two deck hands were thrown into the water in the early hours of Wednesday morning 12 kilometers off the coast from Brunswick Heads. The three were left clinging to a fish tub after their vessel snagged its nets on a reef and sank in seconds.
The tub could not support three men.
One of the trio, Michael Williams, 40, swam for more than 10 hours to raise the alarm after coming ashore at New Brighton Beach. Mr Williams was in Mullumbimby Hospital until yesterday afternoon recovering from the effects of his ordeal. The North Coast Area Health Service said Mr Williams does not want to speak publicly about what happened to him.
A second crewman, John Jarrett, was found by searchers Thursday morning off the coast of Lennox Head still clinging to the fish tub. He's in Ballina Hospital.
He told his rescuers Charlie Picton, who is understood to have been recovering from cancer, drifted away on Wednesday night when he became too weak to hold on.
The official air and sea search for Mr Picton was abandoned yesterday.
Braving the pack of Sydney and Brisbane metropolitan media outside Ballina District Hospital yesterday afternoon, the loss of Charlie Picton was evident in the anguish shown on the face of his brother, Peter.
"He loved fishing, loved his boat that's about all I want to say," Mr Picton said.
"It's a big loss."
Mr Picton thanked those who had helped in the search and rescue efforts for the men, even though his brother was still missing.
"And I appreciate the big swims Michael and John made," he said.
"It's a big loss I can't say too much more."
Peter said Charlie was survived by two sons, William, who will turn eight on Sunday, and Samuel, 12.
"He's loved by his boys very much," Mr Picton said.
Stephen Leahy, Northern NSW Lifeguard coordinator, said lifeguard crews had spent most of yesterday searching beaches from Byron Bay to Ballina for any sign of wreckage or Charlie Picton, but found nothing.
"But even after 30 hours, we are hoping against hope we can find him", Mr Leahy said.
"This is one of the biggest searches we have ever had in Northern NSW, and the overall effort has been brilliant."
While air searches have been called off, local lifeguards are still scouring beaches. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said someone in the water could expect to survive for up to 36 hours.