A Derby transport worker had to swim through crocodile infested waters and cling to a tree for five hours in the dark after his boat sank during a fishing trip near Point Torment.
Robert Bennett, a 50-year old truckie who spent 12 years as a commercial fisherman when he was younger, said he was fishing and crabbing all day before parking his boat on a sandbar at low tide in King Sound, famed for its extreme tides.
Mr Bennett cooked crabs over a fire and enjoyed a couple of beers at sunset before going to bed. Hours later, he was woken by waves slapping against the vessel, which filled with water within seconds.
“It was a rough night … I probably should have been on the leeward side, which was a bit calmer … it was a little bit windier than I’d hoped,” he said.
“We all make mistakes – and I made a mistake that night.” Left standing in knee-deep water with a useless boat, he opted not to activate his EPIRB to trigger a search and rescue operation, but to head for land – his second mistake.
“I was going to leave the boat anyway … the tide was coming in and I thought I’d probably get sand all the way to the mangroves,” he said.
But half a kilometre from shore, with crocodile-infested creeks on either side of him, his luck ran out.
Pelting through the water, trying not to think about crocodiles, he struggled through mangroves and mud until the tide caught up and he had to climb a tree.
About 2am, when the tide receded, he climbed down and headed east-south-east, not emerging from the mangroves until 8am – exhausted, dehydrated and covered in mud.
He walked for several hours looking for campers along tracks into Derby, but heat forced him into the mangroves’ shade from 10am until 3pm.
Several helicopters failed to spot him when rescuers scoured the area mid-morning: “I’d covered myself in mud the night before to keep the midgies off me – I just looked the same colour as the marsh,” he said.
“That was a bit depressing.” He kept walking, eventually spotting cars driven by his bosses from Regal Transport in Derby and Sea Rescue volunteers.
“I was pretty happy – and I was pretty thirsty then too,” he said.
Mr Bennett was flown to hospital for observation but released later that night.
Later, he discovered the alarm was raised by fellow boaties, who spotted his abandoned boat and alerted police, who got a land and sea search under way.
Mr Bennett said he wanted to give those who raised the alarm a couple of cartons of beer.
He also intends to donate to Sea Rescue and the Derby police social club, saying he was “deeply appreciative” of their efforts.
Despite his ordeal, Mr Bennett won’t be deterred from fishing, saying he hopes to have a new boat within six months.