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Missing trawler men 'may still be alive', survivor's wife says

Wednesday October 18, 2017 - 20:57 EDT
ABC licensed image
Skipper Ben Leahy was on watch when the boat capsized. - ABC licensed

The wife of the only man rescued from a trawler that sank off central Queensland on Monday night says she remains hopeful six other men still missing will be found alive.



Ruben McDornan was rescued on Tuesday morning after clinging to the trawler's upturned hull before it sank.

At Gladstone Airport on Wednesday, his wife Sammy was in tears while speaking of Mr McDornan's ordeal.

"He's OK. He's very sad and sore but he's OK and we're so grateful that he's alive," she said.



"But our thoughts are with the boys missing at the moment because they're all like family … so we just need everyone to keep positive for them.

"They live together and work together so we just need to stick together and support each other."

Mr McDornan told his rescuers he could hear his crewmates trying to get out.

The ABC understands he was in bed asleep when the boat capsized.

The family of trawler skipper Ben Leahy said if there had been a way to escape the sinking boat, Mr Leahy and his crew had the free-diving experience to do so.

They described Mr Leahy as a "safety-conscious" skipper who ran a dry boat and would have equipped his crew with the skills to survive.

They said the boat was fitted out with safety gear and would have been able to handle big winds.

But as more time elapses, hopes are fading for the six missing men, who also include Adam Bidner, Adam Hoffman, Zach Feeney, Chris Sammut, and Eli Tonks.



The Queensland Police Service released a statement on behalf of the families.

"The families expressed their appreciation for the work that is currently being done in relation to the search for the missing men and the thoughts of the community, however they ask for privacy and compassion during this extremely difficult time."



The sea cucumber trawler went down in Bustard Bay, north of the town of Seventeen Seventy.

Police said despite some debris being recovered there was no sign of the missing crew members.

Jodie Bidner, the sister of Adam, wrote on Facebook:

"I need every one's hope and will to help my brother Adam, who is currently one of the missing men off his trawler. Adam is strong, stubborn and fit and I'm hanging on to the fact that if anyone is a fighter it's Adam Bidner," she said



According to Mr McDornan's Facebook profile, he is married and attended Cairns State High School.

It is understood Mr Leahy was on watch when the trawler capsized.

Lifeflight chief executive officer Brian Guthrie, who is coordinating the helicopters that are part of the search, is a former school friend of Mr Leahy.

"He's always been in boats and around the water diving and things like that ever since I've known him," he said.

"He's very experienced in the water and I expect his crew would be exactly the same, so if anyone is going to give it their best shot for the best outcome, these guys would be it.

"We're very hopeful and our crew will continue to search until we get some good news here.



He said Mr Leahy was a "very professional operator" having also worked in pearl and abalone industries.

"Throughout Australia, well over 20 years, [he's spent] a long time doing this, straight out of school is when Ben started working on boats," he said.

"[He's] the most experienced person I know and if I was ever going out in the water it would be with Ben."

Poor visibility hampers search as area expanded

An air-and-sea search resumed at first light on Wednesday and will resume again early on Thursday morning.

Coordinator Jeff Barnett said conditions had not favoured their search.



"The best-case scenario is that we find six people in a life raft," he said.

"That's what we're aiming for at the moment but it's not looking real promising.

"There has been a couple of times this morning where aircraft were able to get up [then] they were immediately forced back."

He said divers from Brisbane and New South Wales were joining the search.

Bureau of Meteorology spokesman Sam Campbell said conditions for the search on Wednesday were not ideal but better than the previous day.



"The rainfall won't be as heavy and the winds won't be as strong, but there is quite a lot of energy in the sea at the moment because we've had some really strong winds over the last couple of days — so it will be a bit choppy out there, unfortunately," he said.

Inspector Darren Somerville from Gladstone police said on Wednesday afternoon they started at the last known position of the trawler.

"We'll continue searching until last light today — at night is problematic, especially in these conditions," he said.


- ABC

© ABC 2017

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