Chopper crew recall eerie feeling finding ghost ship
ON SEPTEMBER 12, 2014, beloved Evans Head fisho Michael 'Big Mick' Endres went off on a fishing trip and never returned.
Alerts were raised after he failed to return to the Evans Head Marina more than 30 hours after his last radio contact.
Now, five years later, there is still no hope of finding him.
But the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter crew who set out to find Big Mick's vessel, Julie, have spoken about the difficult task of finding a boat with no one on it.
Pilot Tom Hulse described the "eerie" discovery on the morning of September 13, 2014.
"It's probably the only time I've come across a boat completely deserted like that, floating away," Mr Hulse said.
"We got overhead and the boat looked perfectly normal, except that there was no one in it.
"We thought maybe he was out of sight from our vantage point.
"It was a really good feeling to find the boat, but to realise no one was there was definitely an eerie feeling."
Julie was found 16 to 20 nautical miles off the coast of Evans Head.
Rescue crewman Tom Burns was just two years into the job when he touched down aboard Julie, the seemingly abandoned tinny.
"I was put into the water next to the vessel and boarded it from the back... we found no sign of life on board," Mr Burns said.
"It was daunting in a way -- when you get on the back of a boat and can't see anyone, and check the cabin, you're just not sure what you're going to find.
"It was a bit of a 'hair standing on the back of the neck' kind of feeling."
Despite the daunting feeling, Mr Burns said the crew was methodical in its approach.
"We are highly trained for this sort of moment, but it was still a looming feeling," Mr Burns said.
"We knew the gentleman had some medical conditions and we had a plan in place if we did find him."
Five years later, there are still no more clues as to what happened to Big Mick.
Nokia brick helps discover Julie
When Tom Burns touched down aboard Julie, Big Mick was nowhere to be found, but his Nokia brick mobile phone was.
It still had charge, and was ringing constantly, and that ringing helped triangulate the boat's location within a five mile radius.
"We had been given a lat and longitude for a rough triangulation of the last known whereabouts of the missing person's mobile phone," Burns said.
At the time of his disappearance, Big Mick was 45, and he would be 50 now.
He is described as having a heavy build, 180cm tall with red hair and a fair complexion.
A memorial was held at the Evans Head Fishing Co-Op on September 20, 2014.
"It was just an unfortunate thing that happened -- it's a real shame; there's nothing sadder than never knowing the answer five years later," Mr Hulse said.
"This was a first for having no one on board, that's for sure," Mr Burns said.
"It's never nice to not end up finding them; it was quite a difficult situation, being so far out to sea."
The Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter service in Lismore does about 500 missions a year, with fewer than five per cent being sea-based.
This week, the service is calling upon the community to donate to it, so chopper crews can continue their life-saving work.