Coast guard crew's lucky escape
THE sandbar at the mouth of the Mooloolah River proved just how dangerous it had become when it added a Mooloolaba Coastguard crew to its list of victims yesterday morning.
On the same day the increasingly-notorious river mouth was officially declared a "coastal bar", the 7.3 metre Rotary II hit the bar and overturned while on a training exercise.
Two Coastguard crew members were thrown into the water when a freak wave hit the boat and forced it onto the sandbar, flipping it over.
The crew members were not hurt and Coastguard Mooloolaba commander John Annabell said the incident demonstrated the increasing danger the bar presented to boaters.
It was only last Tuesday that Mr Annabell warned how dangerous the bar had become.
Local trawler operators have been voicing concerns since August, saying boats were regularly becoming stuck and it was only a matter of time before there was a tragedy.
"With that build-up of sand now there it is just a recipe for disaster," Mr Annabel said after yesterday's accident.
It was the first serious rescue of boaters hitting the bar since dredging began several months ago.
But Mr Annabell said the Coastguard had received more than a dozen calls for help in December alone.
"All it took was a freak wave to come through in otherwise calm conditions and our boat was overturned.
"You can only imagine what it would be like in rough weather.
"It is quite ironic that we are the ones needing the rescuing in a situation like this, but it just shows how dangerous it can be."
He said the condition of the bar was the worst he had seen, despite weekly dredging.
"A guy who has been here 30 years said the exact same thing.
"It needs a decent size dredge to clear away the sandbank on the sea-side of the river mouth, but even then the sand will come back."
Concerned boaters raised the issue with Maritime Safety Queensland, which led to categorizing the river mouth a "coastal bar".
It means people on open vessels less than 4.8 metres long have to wear offshore lifejackets when crossing.
Mr Annabell said an incident report was filed to Coastguard officials and questions would be raised about yesterday's accident.
"I certainly didn't expect something like this to happen to us and I think the crew are quite embarrassed about it.
"All we have to show for this is a very wet boat and some sad crew, but hopefully it will open some people's eyes to the potential death trap here."
The extent of the damage to the boat was still be investigated yesterday.