Three saved in Far North sea drama
TWO women were forced to tread water for almost an hour without life jackets after the boat they were on capsized in rough seas off Yorkeys Knob yesterday afternoon.
Shortly before the Cairns helicopter crew located the women, a man in a life jacket, who had been sailing with the pair, had been plucked from the water about 2.5 nautical miles out to sea.
Rescuers say the trio are lucky to see in the new year following their dramatic rescue from the stricken catamaran after the activation of the boat's distress beacon about 4pm.
The Emergency Management Queensland rescue helicopter crew battled 20-knot winds, choppy seas and fading light when they were sent by Australian Search and Rescue to save the group.
"We homed in on the beacon but we didn't know what type of vessel," senior aircrew officer Paul Tongue said.
"We found a man floating in the water with two life jackets under his arms.
"We winch-rescued him from the water."
It is believed the trio, in their mid-30s, were in a catamaran that overturned but the cause of the near-disaster is still being investigated.
"When we got him on board we asked if there was anyone else and he said there were another two," Mr Tongue said.
"We expanded our search and looked for two females. It was concerning.
"The last he saw of them they were going to swim but the wind and current was pushing them north. He hadn't seenthem for 40 minutes to an hour."
The women were located together just before 5pm and were plucked from the water to end their ordeal.
"They got separated in the wash. It was a very lucky find," Mr Tongue said.
While the rescued group declined to speak to The Cairns Post last night, Mr Tongue said they were in high spirits and uninjured despite being in the water for more than an hour.
"The two (females) were out there for a while. They could have got hypothermic but they were in good spirits.
"I think the two ladies being together helped."
The rescued group was flown back to the EMQ helicopter base at Cairns airport yesterday and did not need any medical treatment.
In a separate incident yesterday morning, the rescue helicopter crew winched a woman from an outer reef after she suffered a medical condition.
But Mr Tongue said a rescue from an overturned boat was uncommon.
"It's not that regular," he said.
"It's been a busy day. We winched a scuba diver off Hastings Reef (yesterday morning).She had to be medevaced off a vessel."
A police spokesman said yesterday's incident would be investigated but charges were unlikely to be laid.
The boat is believed to be drifting north and a recovery attempt is expected to be launched today.
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Close call: EMQ helicopter rescue crew officer Patrick Martin and senior aircrew officer Paul Tongue plucked three people to safety. Picture: BRENDAN FRANCIS