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Trio rescued just in time
Help from above: The Westpac Lifesaver Helicopter crew Michael Prosser, rescue swimmer Cameron Coulson and pilot Derek Doak. Picture: Michael Wilson/The West Australian

After 15 hours floating in the cold, dark sea off Rottnest Island, the three fishermen waved wildly at the helicopter as it buzzed overhead and circled letting them know help was on the way.

For the men, tied together with rope, kept afloat by lifejackets and suffering varying degrees of hypothermia, the dramatic rescue had come not a moment too soon.

The trio had been out fishing for about two hours when their boat sank suddenly on Tuesday night. They did not have time to activate the EPIRB, so the alarm was not raised until Dirk Fayers realised his 79-year-old father Dirreck, an experienced recreational fisherman, had not returned from his trip.

Mr Fayers found his father's car and trailer early yesterday, still parked at the Woodman Point jetty where the men had launched the boat.

By the time police got a call from Mr Fayers at 7am, the men had been in the water for 12 hours. Nine boats, including volunteer marine rescue and Water Police, were joined by the police helicopter and the Surf Life Saving WA helicopter in the search.

Dirreck Fayers and two friends had set off from the jetty about 5pm on Tuesday with the intention of fishing off Carnac Island and returning about 10pm.

That all changed when a huge fish forced the 5m boat to tilt two hours into their expedition.

Mr Fayers said his father told his friend to cut the line because the fish was simply too big.

"They realised the boat started getting lower and lower and they tried to open the battery compartment to see if they could start the boat so they could get it closer to the island, but when they opened it they saw the boat was quickly filling with water," Mr Fayers said. The great-grandfather and his two friends, both aged in their 60s, managed to get their lifejackets on and tie themselves together with a piece of rope to ensure they did not drift apart.

They drifted 10km before being spotted at Stragglers Reef about 11am yesterday.

Cameron Coulson, the rescue swimmer on the SLSWA Westpac Lifesaver Helicopter, saw the men paddling together as the helicopter flew towards Rottnest Island.

"I could see them waving for assistance as we flew past and I called to the pilot that we had survivors sighted."

The helicopter circled and flew alongside the men with the door open, Mr Coulson giving them the thumbs up to let them know help was on its way.

"Those poor blokes had been in the water for a fair amount of time," he said. "It was great we did see them and that they made it back to land safely."

Paramedics at Water Police headquarters in North Fremantle assessed the men and took them to Fremantle Hospital for treatment for hypothermia.

Water Police Sgt Michael Wear said staying together had helped save the men.

"We could have had an outcome with three deceased people here, but luckily enough they were alive - it could have been a lot worse," Sgt Wear said.

Mr Fayers said the whole family were relieved his father had been saved. "I don't think he'll want to go fishing again in a hurry after this," he said.