Five snorkellers stranded on a tiny island off the east coast of Australia were rescued after scrawling a giant SOS message into a sandbank.
The group had left their boat near the sandbank and headed for a rocky outcrop on their day trip. But the boat’s anchor later broke and the vessel drifted away. Two of the group tried to swim after the drifting boat, but could not reach it. They then marked out SOS in the sand.
Friends of the group on a nearby island raised the alarm when they did not return as planned. The boat was spotted by a volunteer rescue crew who traced its registration. A rescue helicopter found the group and winched them to safety, flying them back to the mainland.
The friends, two women and three men, were on a trip from Keswick Island to Silloth Rocks, about 30 nautical miles east of Mackay, Queensland.
One of the group, Lyn Forbes-Smith, told an Australian newspaper: “We’re feeling very fortunate. We are very, very lucky.
“We just looked for the highest ground, we looked for rocks where five of us could huddle together because we didn’t really want to separate, and we wanted to be out of the wind as best as possible.
“We were using everything we could to get attention.
“We were delighted to see a bit of helicopter activity after the boat had been located and we saw the helicopter near Brampton Island and we thought, ‘That’s got to be looking for us’ and it was. It was fantastic to see.”
Thanking the rescue crew, she said the group were “a bit sunburnt” after their ordeal, which happened on Monday, but otherwise in good health.
Another member of the group, Craig Gilbert, said: “We saw the helicopter and we thought, ‘Oh, you beauty’. And then it disappeared and we thought, ‘Oh no, we better look out for our beds for the night’. Then it came back probably 20 minutes later.”
Rescue helicopter crew member Damien Kross said the five were treated for sunburn and dehydration on arrival in Mackay, but were otherwise fine.
Whitsunday Water Police officer in charge Sergeant Graeme Pettigrew said the group had let people know where they were going before they became stranded and said that this had helped with the rescue.
He said: “This is probably a good reminder that if you let someone know exactly where you’re going there’s a good chance you’ll be found and found early.”