CANBERRA, Australia – A shrimp fisherman who swam 12 hours to shore to get help after his trawler sank, leaving him and his two crewmates clinging to flotsam, was hailed as a hero Friday.
Michael Williams, a 39-year-old deckhand aboard the trawler Sea Rogue, reached shore at New Brighton Beach, where passers-by found him Wednesday afternoon, police said. Crewman John Jarrett was found at sea Thursday and the search for 40-year-old skipper Charlie Picton was called off late Thursday.
Because the trawler was only one day into a four-day fishing trip, Jarrett, known as JJ, told his sister they feared a search would not begin for another three days.
"JJ said: 'We'll be out here for at least three days because no one knows we're here,' so brave Michael swam all the way to shore," Rosemary Jarrett told Nine Network television outside Ballina District Hospital, where her brother was being treated for exposure.
"He's my hero. He's all our hero," she said.
Jarrett, who survived 30 hours in the 75-degree water, recounted his harrowing ordeal Thursday, telling how he clung desperately to a fiberglass cooler lid while trying vainly to help his exhausted skipper stay afloat.
Jarrett said Picton held on for hours but eventually drifted away, according to a friend of the crew, Mark McMurtrie.
Authorities called off an air search for Picton late Thursday. "The evidence suggests that the victim has drowned," a police statement said.
A search helicopter found Jarrett, 41, about 9 miles off the coast at Ballina, clinging to the cooler lid that also was used on the trawler as a shrimp-sorting table, Ten Network television reported.
McMurtrie, who said he learned of the details from Jarrett, said the shrimper capsized and sank before dawn Wednesday off Ballina, north of Byron Bay, about 480 miles north of Sydney. Its nets had snagged on a reef about 8 miles offshore. Williams decided to try to swim for help.
When Williams reached New Brighton Beach, resident Chris Gort was among the first on the scene.
"I was walking along the beach and came across a female who had found this gentleman that had claimed he had been swimming for hours in the water and claimed that his boat had sunk," Gort told Sky News television.
"He had pretty bad cuts and bruises to his legs and his arms. He was pretty exhausted, pretty badly sunburnt," Gort added.
Williams, who was released from a hospital in nearby Mullumbimby late Friday, has declined media requests for interviews. Nine Network showed him leaving the hospital on crutches. When asked by a reporter, Williams described his condition as "good."
Rescuers expressed amazement that the two men survived.
Steve Wills, a British marine search specialist working temporarily with Australia's Surf Life Saving Association, said there have been very few cases of people surviving such a predicament.
"The expected survival time for most people in those conditions would be a few hours. The feat for one, in particular, to reach the shore, is pretty remarkable," Wills said.
Jarrett, who was suffering from dehydration and exposure but was expected to make a full recovery, said he never doubted his own survival.
"I've got a determination like no other person," he said in an interview with Ten Network news as he was surrounded by his three children.
Meeting with other reporters, he said, "I wasn't going to die out there, no way." He added that he would never go to sea again.
Jarrett said Picton, a father of two, had been weakened by cancer treatment and couldn't keep his grip on the floating cooler lid.
McMurtrie quoted Jarrett as recounting how he had to regularly empty the lid of water to keep it afloat. Jarrett said he would support Picton while lifting the lip to drain it, but eventually he slipped off and drifted away, the friend said.
Picton's brother Peter said Friday he had told the missing skipper's two sons Thursday that their father would not be coming back.
"One of the biggest things I've ever done in my life is what I did yesterday," Peter Picton told Nine Network. "Charlie's gone and he won't be coming home."