After being shipwrecked and “left for dead” more than 30 years ago, a Queensland woman claims she’s been given “a second chance” at life.
Lisa Thompson, who was 20 at the time, and her then-boyfriend, Robert Brown, were forced to fight to survive when their fishing boat started taking on water in April, 1989 just off the coast of North Queensland.
Facing “shark-infested waters,” the couple managed to swim three hours to deserted Fantome Island, a former leper colony, located 65 kilometres north of Townsville.
There they spent three nights in the wild, living off rainwater and rock oysters, while an aerial search crew failed to spot them.
‘Old and ratty’ boat sunk off coast
The couple had only been dating for a month before their fateful boat trip but Ms Thompson, who’d been living on Magnetic Island, described her partner as the “love of her life".
Having been born in New Zealand and grown up around boats, she had no hesitation in heading out on the water with her boyfriend, who had been working on Palm Island, despite noticing the boat looked “a bit old and ratty".
But it wasn’t until they were on their way home on Saturday, April 15 that “everything that could go wrong did go wrong".
“The battery lead got loose and then the steering cable snapped and then the boat started taking on water,” Ms Thompson said. “We were bailing water out for a few hours and by then it was dark and starting to rain. The wind then came up and we got hit by a rogue wave and it swamped the boat. I got trapped with my life jacket and the flares were stuffed so they didn’t work, and my partner had to unhook me from the boat that was going down.”
“Then basically we were in shark infested waters and he said we have to swim there,” she added. “We could just see the silhouette of an island.”
Dragging themselves across coral reefs, the pair finally reached land.
“When we woke up the next day we thought that we were on the back of Palm Island but we discovered that we were actually on another island because we could see Palm Island from where we were,” she said. “It was awful.”
Finding themselves alone and deserted on Fantome Island, the couple did what they could to survive.
“We had fresh water and rock oysters to eat and my partner almost stood on a sea snake trying to collect them so that was very scary because they are highly poisonous,” she said, adding that Mr Brown made a shelter out of bark to sleep in. “We tried to light a fire but couldn’t because everything was wet all the time as it rained every night.”
‘Authorities gave up on us’
It wasn’t until two days later, when Mr Brown failed to turn up for work on Monday, that the alarm was raised. Later that day the shipwrecked couple heard the first plane fly over.
“But the rescue plane went in the wrong direction,” Ms Thompson said. “It didn't come anywhere near us. We were waving up and down like crazy. It was horrifying and so disheartening. You just feel lost and think, oh my God I am never going to see my family ever again.”
“The authorities only looked for us for one day and then they basically gave up. They said that they sent a boat around the island but there were no boats. The Australian police actually went to my mother’s place in New Zealand and said, your daughter’s presumed dead, missing at sea, we can't find her or her partner.”
Finally, by late Tuesday afternoon, a group of fishermen spotted the pair.
“They saw us and we were just waving up and down frantically and yelling out,” Ms Thompson said, adding that the men had to walk over the coral reef and lift her into the boat because she was "so weak".
Sunburnt, dehydrated and suffering sunstroke, the two were taken to Palm Island hospital to recover from their ordeal.
Book in the works but Robert Brown not found
Now, more than 33 years after the ordeal Ms Thompson, who is now an author and illustrator, is preparing to publish a book about her experience.
“This story is about survival and determination and I guess giving back to society,” Ms Thompson told Yahoo News Australia.
“I just want to get my story written and for people to read about our ordeal and how I overcome everyday obstacles, how life is very precious, and to take one day at a time,” she said. "And to follow your dreams and aspirations, which I am doing every day."
However writing her book has sent Ms Thompson on an eight-year ghost trail while she searches for Mr Brown, who she lost contact with shortly after the incident.
"We just drifted apart which broke my heart," she said. "Writing this book has brought up lots of memories and lots that I can't remember either, and it would just be nice to confirm with him a few things."
Yet she's had "no luck whatsoever" in tracking down her ex-boyfriend, who lived in Townsville at the time. "I went and talked by phone and email to a lot of his old friends and places that he used to hang at, like pubs and that, and nobody knows where he is at all."
After nine years of working on her book, Lost In Plain Sight, Ms Thompson has now set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for its printing and production, as well as for a second book, Letters From The Ocean, which is about sea creatures. Part proceeds of the sale of both books will go towards UNICEF for education in schools around the world.
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