By KYLIE ADAM
“THE Sea Rescue’s rubber duckie was washed up on North Beach but the fate of Rescue One, worth around $120,000, with all equipment, was still unknown late yesterday.”
That was how the Port Macquarie News reported the May 1999 sea drama that claimed Port Macquarie Sea Rescue’s boat, Rescue One.
On Monday though, 20 months after the boat sank and disappeared, the fate of the six-metre twin hulled Kevlar Cat was finally revealed: on a Queensland beach, some 1400 kms north of where it went down.
The lead-up to the boat’s sinking was one of the most dramatic events ever witnessed on the Hastings, and culminated in bravery awards for eight members of Port Macquarie Sea Rescue and two Port Macquarie policemen.
The drama began on the afternoon of May 24, 1999, when five Sea Rescue members headed across the Hastings River bar in Rescue One in an effort to ferry supplies to two stranded yachts.
Rescue One however lost power in the high seas and overturned, throwing the crew into the water.
Two other Sea Rescue members went to their aid in the group’s rubber duckie but this too was swamped, leaving it up to Senior Constables Tony Long and Jason Bryant who commandeered another rubber duckie and eventually rescued all the crew in a dramatic hour witnessed by hundreds along the shore.
Port Macquarie Sea Rescue’s rubber duckie was eventually washed up but Rescue One was last seen on May 26 1999, 18 miles off the coast south of Forster. Sea Rescue members presumed the boat had eventually been hit and sunk by a ship.
That is until Monday when Bryan Stewart of Oxley Insurance Brokers in Port Macquarie took a call from a Mackay resident who said the hull of a boat – identified as Rescue One by the writing still visible on the side – had been brought in to a Mackay beach by a Queensland survey boat.
The survey boat had been travelling north when the crew noticed the hull of a boat floating out to sea about 110 km south-east of Mackay.
They winched it aboard.
On arriving at their destination near Mackay, they obtained permission to dump it on a harbour wall where it was noticed by a pensioner, keen to salvage what was left.
He then contacted another Mackay resident, who on closer inspection noticed the partial names of “Oxley Insurance Brokers” and “Port Rescue”, the only writing still visible under layers of barnacles.
Using investigative skills that would make any detective proud, the resident rang Telstra to see if there was a listing for an Oxley Insurance Brokers in Port Macquarie and soon found himself talking to Mr Stewart.
“I was just nonplussed when he rang and thought ‘is he for real?’,” said Mr Stewart, who is still amazed the boat has turned up so far away from where it sank.
Mr Stewart is now waiting to hear from the insurance company, which is the boat’s legal owner after paying out on it more than 18 months ago, to see if the pensioner can salvage it.
There is nothing left of the boat above the hull but amazingly the engines are still attached, although the boat itself “smells pretty bad”.
For Port Macquarie Sea Rescue, the boat’s discovery is wonderful news.
“We’re so pleased about it because we had that boat for 13 years and were very attached to it,” said president Ron Isaacs.
“For the people of Port Macquarie it was a lifesaving vessel and to see it maybe rejuvenated makes us very happy.”
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