'MIRACLE': Man survives 24 hours floating in shark-infested waters off Australia

A "lucky" man has been found clinging to debris in the crocodile and shark infested waters off Australia's Cape York Peninsula after surviving a turbulent 24 hours at sea.

The 31-year-old was discovered by authorities near Thursday Island in the Torres Strait on Wednesday morning after failing to arrive by boat to his destination on Tuesday afternoon.

"We assisted Queensland Water Police in a search for an overdue dinghy with one person on board, between Getullia Island and Sue Island, in Torres Strait," the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said on their Facebook page.

A photo of the capsized boat near Thursday Island in Australia's Torres Strait. Another photo of the man holding on to some debris in the water.
A 31-year-old man was found floating on a piece of debris in the ocean after being reported missing the night before. Source: Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA)

"About 11.30am AEDT today (Wednesday) the upturned dinghy was located in the water and following a short aerial search the missing person was found about 2km from the dinghy clinging to some flotsam," Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said on their Facebook page. "The person was winched to safety and taken to Thursday Island for medical assistance."

According to the ABC, the man started his journey at about 9.30am on Tuesday, and was reported missing by his family at 6pm, after not arriving on time and failing to update them on where he was since 11am.

Frequent shark and croc sightings at Torres Strait Islands

On top of having to cling onto what is believed to be a piece of wood, the man was forced to negotiate the waters near Thursday Island, which are not deemed swimmable by locals due to frequent sightings of crocodiles, sharks (specifically bronze whaler and tiger sharks) and marine stingers.

After pausing their search on Tuesday night due to bad weather, AMSA and Queensland Water Police started up again on Wednesday morning and were thankfully successful.

A photo of the man being rescued by helicopter near Thursday Island.
He was found alive the next morning by local authorities. Source: Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA)

According to the officer-in-charge at the Thursday Island Police Station, Senior Sergeant Anthony Moynihan, the man was found with no life jacket or flares, and that him being found alive and well is "a Christmas miracle", The Cairns Post reports.

"The weather up here was horrendous, it was too wild for a helicopter," he told the publication. "We had fixed-wing aircraft, three helicopters, including the Rescue 700, and two Border Force helicopters as well as volunteer marine rescue from Moa Island and seven local vessels from Moa and Warraber helping."

"These guys worked so hard and they did not get to watch the funeral due to the rescue," he said, referring to Queensland Police Constables Matthew Arnold and Rachel McCrow who were killed in an ambush earlier this month.

AMSA also extended their thanks to everyone involved, and wished the "very lucky survivor a speedy recovery".

What to do before making a boat journey

The Queensland Government advises to plan a trip accordingly before hopping in, including performing the following steps:

  • Packing safety equipment.

  • Checking for boat damage.

  • Looking out for weather alerts.

  • Telling someone where you're going and when you're expected to arrive.

  • Calculating how much water, food and fuel you will need.

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