Two Australian fishermen who went missing at sea for five days have been rescued 100 kilometres from their intended destination, with authorities finding them "in relatively good spirits and in good health" several hours after calling off the search.
Tony Higgins, 57, and Derek Robinson, 48, set off from Coffin Bay on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula in a 30-foot wooden-hulled fishing boat at about 3PM last Thursday, bound for the port town of Goolwa some 350 kilometres away. Just before midnight on Friday, however, they contacted a friend to report engine trouble, and said they were going to divert to nearby Kangaroo Island.
That was the last anyone heard from them.
South Australia Police, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, the Royal Australian Air Force and Kangaroo Island and Volunteer Marine Rescue launched a large-scale rescue operation on Sunday, scouring more than 103,000 square kilometres in search of the men. It is the largest maritime search operation in South Australia’s history, according to state police.
With the men still at large on Wednesday night, authorities finally suspended the operation—mere hours before Higgins called Victor Harbor police station to inform them that they were located outside the search area at Salt Creek, 100 kilometres south.
"Our water operations unit are working now and a search and rescue aircraft is on the way from Canberra," a South Australia Police spokesperson told Fairfax on Thursday morning.
Speaking to the media after making it back to dry land—and with a beer in hand—Robinson explained that their boat’s propellor threw a blade after they hit something on Friday, forcing them to turn the power right down so as not to put too much pressure on it.
He also claimed that he and Higgins had no idea that a massive search operation was underway.
"The world didn't exist, we were out in the middle of nowhere,” he said. “I knew where we were, but the tides, the currents threw us off a bit."
Robinson’s family and friends were waiting to meet the men at Victor Harbor boat ramp on Thursday morning, relieved at the news that they were safe.
"We are very happy for him to be back alive and well," Robinson’s daughter Ashley told the Victor Harbor Times. "It has been a very up and down time, we haven't known what to think, we were especially disappointed when the search was called off, but we have always been positive.
"We always had hope and you never give up until there is proof otherwise."