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Five rescued after writing giant SOS

by Courier Mail/Sail-World Cruising on 25 Apr 2014
The SOS which saved the five SW
Luckily, the five people stranded on a rocky outcrop in a remote part of the Whitsunday Islands off Australia's north east coast had watched plenty of movies. They knew that, when stranded, the best chance of a good outcome was to write SOS in big letters in the sand - and it worked! Here's a story to remember next time you leave your dinghy on a beach...

ONE of five people winched to safety by a helicopter off the coast of Mackay on Monday has recounted the dramatic rescue.

Keswick Island resident Lyn Forbes-Smith told the local newspaper she and four others were preparing to spend a night on a rocky outcrop near Wigton Island before being rescued.

The group had set off from Keswick Island about 8am on a snorkelling expedition, anchoring their 6.1m Haines Hunter boat near an exposed sandbar.



Leaving mobile phones and sun protection on board, the group set off towards an adjacent rocky outcrop only to realise the boat had gone adrift in the rising tide.

'Just as we got over to the rocks one of the boat co-owners … turned back and could see that the boat had shifted,' Mrs Forbes-Smith said.

Two men swam after the vessel but it quickly drifted beyond reach. 'The northerly had really picked up and the boat was moving far more quickly.'

So, in true Tom Hanks fashion, the group scrawled a large SOS sign in the highest part of the sand bank and retreated to the highest rocks on the outcrop. However, they had a better outcome than Tom did.

'We knew the sandbar would go under but we were fairly confident that the tide wouldn’t have taken over the rocks,' Mrs Forbes-Smith said.

'We were also reasonably confident that our friends and colleagues back on Keswick Island would be aware that, by the time 4pm came around, us not being back was probably a bit irregular.

'People knew where we were headed.'

The boat was located by Volunteer Marine Rescue crews, who traced the registration sticker back to Keswick Island.

An RACQ Central Queensland Rescue helicopter was dispatched to the area to search for the group, locating them about 4pm.

'We had sort of made plans about what we’d do on the rock for the evening,' Mrs Forbes Taylor said. 'We had reef walkers on thankfully, but we had no food, water, cream, no hats, not much at all.

'We just looked for the highest ground, we looked for rocks where five of us could huddle together because we didn’t really want to separate, and we wanted to be out of the wind as best as possible. We were a bit burnt and it would have been fairly cold.'

By nightfall the group had been spotted by the helicopter, winched from the rock and flown back to Mackay. The boat was also returned by VMR to Mackay in-tact.

Mrs Forbes-Smith thanked VMR and RACQ CQ Rescue for their professionalism throughout the rescue effort.

The moral of the story for sailors is, of course, that you need to remember the tide when abandoning your dinghy anywhere...

This is what the rescuers saw when they arrived - but don't get excited, it misses the actual discovery of the rescuees:

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