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Emotional reunion with wife for survivor of trawler capsize in central Queensland

By Laura Gartry and staff, Thursday October 19, 2017 - 17:50 EDT
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Mr McDornan was brought to Gladstone to be reunited with wife Sammy today. - ABC

The man who is thought to be the sole survivor of a trawler capsize off the central Queensland coast has had an emotional reunion with his wife in Gladstone.

Ruben McDornan was rescued by a passing yacht after the trawler Dianne overturned in rough waters in Bustard Bay near the Town of Seventeen Seventy on Monday night.

The 32-year-old stayed in Agnes Water, near Seventeen Seventy, on Wednesday night, where he provided a statement to police.

He was one of seven people onboard the vessel.

Today Mr McDornan was brought to Gladstone to be reunited with wife Sammy, who ran to embrace him the moment she saw him.

State Disaster Coordinator Peter Martin said Mr McDornan had been "incredibly helpful" in assisting police with the ongoing search and rescue operation.



Queensland police have released a statement on Mr McDornan's behalf, thanking the community for their support.

"Ruben is very distressed regarding this incident and is concerned for the welfare of his friends who remain missing, and their families," the statement said.

"He and his family wish to thank everyone for their thoughts and support however at this time they ask the media to respect their privacy."

Specialist divers from Brisbane and Sydney have joined the search for the six other fishermen as hopes of finding survivors fade.

"We've got a dedicated team of family liaison officers who have been giving regular briefings to the families of each of the men missing," Deputy Commissioner Martin said.

"They've been wonderfully understanding."

Mr McDornan was rescued by the passing yacht, but the other men, Ben Leahy, Eli Tonks, Chris Sammut, Adam Bidner, Adam Hoffman and Zach Feeney were trapped in the trawler's hull.



His fiancee Ana James described the father of two as "full of love, compassion and emotion".

"He is a machine. Friends and family know he would not give up without a fight," Ms James said.

"Most of us continue to hold onto hope that he's kicked back on one of the islands with a coconut in hand because that's the kind of guy he is — fearless and capable of anything."



It is understood all of the missing men are Cairns locals, except for Mr Sammut who is from the Gold Coast.

Search divers are using specialist equipment to trace objects and vessels underwater, and advanced sonar-scanning equipment is on its way up from Brisbane.

Mr McDornan told his rescuers he clung to the upturned hull for several hours before it sank and he could hear his crewmates trying to get out.



Focus to soon shift onto recovery phase

The search resumed at 6:30am on Thursday, but the focus .

Search and rescue coordinator Sergeant Jeff Barnett yesterday said the chances of survival were slim and it appeared the trawler's lifeboat was not deployed.

"Indications are a person unsupported during this timeframe would not make it and at this stage we're hoping for the best-case scenario," he said.



"But even in that timeframe for survival, on advice from medical team advisers, towards the end of the afternoon [Wednesday] the chances of survival unsupported are negligible.

"We have already started planning for the search and recovery phase."

The police-coordinated search on Thursday will involve up to 12 water vessels, two helicopters, two fixed-wing aircraft and numerous vehicles patrolling the shoreline in the search area.

Challenging weather conditions expected to ease

Torrential rain and dangerous winds have been hindering search efforts however conditions are expected to improve around midday.

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.

Mr Guthrie said search conditions had been extremely challenging.

"A lot of wind, a lot of rain and quite heavy rain which reduces visibility," he said.



Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Harry Clark said conditions had eased in the last 12 hours but they were still not ideal.

"Those seas at the moment are 1 to 1.5 metres and increasing up to two metres offshore ... with the winds increasing the chop on the water it will make things a little bit difficult to see unfortunately," he said.

"There are still a fair few showers around. It still is a little bit breezy through the region, we have easterly winds 20 to 25 knots still with those seas picking up to 2 metres."



Families of missing men unable to reach search site

The families of the missing men have been unable to go to the search site at the Town of Seventeen Seventy because it is cut off by floodwaters and authorities expect the roads will remain closed for several days.

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



"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," it said.

The family of skipper Mr 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.


- ABC

© ABC 2017

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