Thankful to be alive


AFTER spending 15 gruelling hours in the icy waters off the Tweed Coast, Joel Wilson and Scott Warren were in remarkably good spirits yesterday following their dramatic rescue near Brunswick Heads.

The two, draped in hospital blankets, spoke candidly about their ordeal yesterday and the relief they felt when they were spotted by a rescue helicopter.

"We can't thank everyone enough," Mr Wilson said. "The Coastguard, Tweed Police, Tweed Hospital, Careflight.

"It's just great to be back on dry land. The room feels like it's still rocking. We're just looking forward to a hot shower and a sleep."

Mr Wilson, a civil engineer from Kingscliff and Mr Warren, a demolition worker from Brisbane, both 26 and fathers of young children, set out for a quick afternoon sail at 4pm on Thursday from Cudgen Creek. But what started out as a one-hour trip quickly turned into every boaties nightmare when their 12-foot catamaran "cart wheeled" in rough seas, dumping the two men into the icy waters.

For the next 15 hours, they clung to the overturned boat and focused on survival and returning home to their families. After the men failed to return, they were reported missing by a friend. Police located their car and boat trailer where the men had left them and a search and rescue operation was immediately launched with rescuers patrolling up and down the coast for much of the night.

Shortly before 7.30am, the men were spotted by a rescue helicopter, clinging to their overturned catamaran three nautical miles off Brunswick Heads.

They were winched from the water and airlifted to Tweed Hospital. The men, in remarkably good health, were released from hospital several hours later to be reunited with their worried, but relieved, families.

"At one point, we made the decision we wouldn't be able to swim for it so we improvised and made a little shelter for ourselves and just waited to be rescued," Mr Wilson said.

"But we are glad we had wetsuits on. It's just good to be home."

It is understood the men did not have life jackets or boat lighting and due to the expected short trip also had no food or water on board.

Tweed Coast Sea Rescuer Anthony Smith, who allegedly spotted a three-metre shark as he scoured the area aboard a jet ski, was critical of the sailors for heading out to sea without a radio on board.

Local police said the men were just lucky to be alive. A spokesman from the Tweed Hospital said the water temperature, which was approximately 19 degrees celsius, was enough to cause hypothermia.

"The obvious risks are hypothermia, drowning or aspirating sea water, trauma injuries, dehydration and psychological trauma," the spokesman said.

"Everyone handles a situation like this differently.

"An older person may only last a couple of hours but these men were both strong and fit."

Now the avid sailors are back on dry land, their conversation quickly turned to the exaggerated tales they can tell at their local pub.

"Scott was convinced he had seen a shark and heard a thud on the boat," Mr Wilson said. "I don't know about that. I didn't see anything."

"We will be definitely spinning a few yarns about this," Mr Warren said.

But while the two can now joke about the traumatic event, they both recognise how lucky they were.

"There are heaps of things we should have done differently," Mr Wilson said.

"We will be taking more safety gear next time. But this won't stop us sailing. We may get back out there tomorrow (today)."

The two men are hoping to sell their whole story to raise money for Careflight.

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