Rescue: Five people stranded on island after boat drifted away

Published on April 23rd, 2014

Five Australians were rescued on Monday (April 21) after scrawling SOS on a sandbar off north Queensland coast, situated in the north-east region of the country. Keswick Island resident Lyn Forbes-Smith told The Courier-Mail she and four others were preparing to spend a night on a rocky outcrop near Wigton Island before being rescued.

The group had set off from Keswick Island about 8am on a snorkelling expedition, anchoring their 6.1m Haines Hunter boat near an exposed sandbar. Leaving mobile phones and sun protection on board, the group set off towards an adjacent rocky outcrop only to realise the boat had gone adrift in the rising tide.

“Just as we got over to the rocks one of the boat co-owners … turned back and could see that the boat had shifted,” Mrs Forbes-Smith said.

Two men swam after the vessel but it quickly drifted beyond reach. “The northerly had really picked up and the boat was moving far more quickly.”

The group scrawled a large SOS sign in the highest part of the sand bank and retreated to the highest rocks on the outcrop. “We knew the sandbar would go under but we were fairly confident that the tide wouldn’t have taken over the rocks,” Mrs Forbes-Smith said.

“We were also reasonably confident that our friends and colleagues back on Keswick Island would be aware that, by the time 4pm came around, us not being back was probably a bit irregular. “People knew where we were headed.”

The boat was located by Volunteer Marine Rescue crews, who traced the registration sticker back to Keswick Island. Queensland Water Police contacted RACQ-CQ Rescue at 2:15pm after the boat was found floating between Brampton and Cockermouth islands.

An RACQ Central Queensland Rescue helicopter was dispatched to the area to search for the group, locating them about 4pm.

“We had sort of made plans about what we’d do on the rock for the evening,” Mrs Forbes Taylor said. “We had reef walkers on thankfully, but we had no food, water, cream, no hats, not much at all.

“We just looked for the highest ground, we looked for rocks where five of us could huddle together because we didn’t really want to separate, and we wanted to be out of the wind as best as possible. We were a bit burnt and it would have been fairly cold.”

By nightfall the group had been spotted by the helicopter, and as rescue crews were unable to access the location by boat because of the shallow waters, the group was winched from the rock and flown back to Mackay.

The boat was also returned by VMR to Mackay in-tact.

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