Capsized boat survivors spent 16 hours floating in dangerous Top End waters
Edward Darcy and his companions went overboard when their boat capsized. (Supplied: Facebook)
A fishing party of four is to believed to have spent up to 16 hours floating at sea after their boat capsized in turbulent Top End waters.
Fisherman and Tiwi Bombers footballer Edward Darcy was among the group which launched from Leaders Creek boat ramp on Friday afternoon bound for the nearby Vernon Islands.
According to police, the men were due to return in the evening but they would soon strike trouble in rough seas.
The conditions were treacherous, with winds sometimes reaching more than 25 knots and waves of up to two metres across the weekend, according to Sergeant John Pini.
“So for small craft, that can be very dangerous. It only takes you to approach a wave incorrectly and you can be swamped,” he said.
Larger vessels had already been turned back by the turbulent seas.
By Saturday afternoon, the men’s families were being called and told the group still hadn’t been seen or heard from.
“I was getting a bit worried and [saying to family], like, someone needs to go out there and have a look, look out on the sea and also go and have a look if the car’s still out at Leaders Creek,” Mr Darcy’s aunty Elisabeth Heenan said.
Friends and family found the car where the group had parked it and set about searching land and sea.
‘I’m sorry we didn’t find him’
Police received a report the party was overdue on Saturday afternoon and joined the search, noting the group had missed two tide opportunities to return.
“With the limited light we used a helicopter and a police vessel … and we were unable to detect the party,” Sergeant Pini said.
Family members assisting with the search travelled to Cape Hotham on Sunday morning and it was there that three fishers, including an 11-year-old boy and two adults, aged 35 and 37, were found alive.
Sergeant Pini confirmed their vessel had capsized and sank and said they spent 16 hours in the ocean before coming ashore.
“Thankfully they had life jackets onboard, otherwise they simply would’ve perished before reaching land,” he said.
One of the people involved with the search brought the bittersweet news back to Ms Heenan.
“He just pretty much said to me that, ‘I’m really sorry that we only found three, we didn’t find your [nephew]’,” she said.
“But apparently one of the guys said the current was too strong and it separated them.”
Additionally, police said some of the family members were unaware Mr Darcy had joined them on the trip and only later discovered that a fourth person was missing.
Life jackets credited for survival
As the sun was setting on the weekend, Ms Heenan began to prepare for bad news.
“I said, ‘It’s getting late now, it’s too dark, I’m getting really, really worried’,” she said.
But late on Sunday Mr Darcy was located in a different area of Cape Hotham.
Police believe he had been resting beneath shade, obscuring him from the view of the helicopter as it flew over.
Ms Heenan began to tear up when she received news of her nephew’s unlikely survival.
“I heard that he was in the water for about 16 hours, pretty much drifting,” she said.
“All I could think about was all the crocs and the sharks and all the other dangerous animals out there.”
Sergeant Pini attributed the group’s survival to their decision to carry and wear life jackets.
“Particularly when you do have waves of that height, it would be quite an ordeal for anybody to be in the water for that length of time,” he said.
“In 16 hours you would fatigue and sink under the water and drown, but with a life jacket you’ve got a fighting chance.”
He said a minor change in the current would have significantly reduced the chances of them being found.
Mr Darcy was suffering from dehydration but recovering well at the Royal Darwin Hospital, police said.