Fisherman remembers survival swim
HEARING of a Tweed fisherman's marathon six-hour survival swim hit close to home for one Murwillumbah man.
Geoff Higgins, 70, swam a gruelling 15km in 1970, after his boat sunk at the same location of Tuesday's incident, Nine Mile Reef.
Mr Higgins, who was a Daily News compositor and 29 at the time, was fishing with his school-mate John Stormon when waves swamped their 14-foot wooden boat about 6pm on March 26, the eve of Good Friday.
“I grabbed the only lifejacket and told him to get it on and under no circumstances take it off,” Mr Higgins said.
“He was a fit guy but a poor swimmer.
“I was towing him along for a lot of the way.”
About six hours into the swim Mr Higgins said the pair became separated by waves.
Mr Higgins came to shore south of Kingscliff and ran about 1km to the Cudgen sand mining works to alert authorities about 4am.
An air and sea search was held for Mr Stormon and his mate's body was located 8km off Cabarita Beach about 7.30am.
“He was a good guy. It was the hardest thing I've had to do in my life when I had to get his wife and mother and father up and tell them to expect the worst.”
Mr Higgins said he thought about “staying alive and afloat” for his wife and two children during the swim.
“At least that chap had somebody looking for him, nobody knew about us.”
Mr Higgins suffered blue bottle stings, chaffing from his singlet and cramps but was otherwise unharmed.
Mr Higgins said he felt sorry for Tweed Heads fisherman Andrew Wilson when he heard of his ordeal.
Mr Wilson swam about 8km without a lifejacket on Tuesday afternoon and into the night, clambering ashore over rocks and oysters at Fingal Head. About 10.30pm he knocked at a Fingal house where he was assisted by a stranger who lived there.
“I want to catch up with him later, just to see what happened,” Mr Higgins said.
Despite his accident, Mr Higgins said he was still a keen fisherman and he hoped Mr Wilson's experience would not stop him from enjoying the ocean.
“It's not to be totally feared but it's got to be respected.”