PETER Trayhurn knew he was in trouble when he and his diving mate Geoff Masters reached the ocean’s surface and their dive boat was nowhere to be seen.
The anchor rope had snapped. They were 7.4 kilometres off the coast of Wooli, it was mid-afternoon and the choppy conditions made for extremely low visibility.
Incredibly, the diving pair was found swimming for their lives about four hours later and all seemed well.
But returning to safety back aboard their dive boat, Doutless III – carrying three crew members – the boat capsized on its way across the Wooli bar.
Many in the Valley will recall the story – it took place on December 23, 2006.
Now, almost four years later, incredible photos of the day have emerged thanks to the lucky find of Peter’s camera on a Wooli beach in late August.
The camera, which Peter held onto during his ordeal, was lost when the boat capsized.
Lismore plumber Steve Campbell, who owns a weekender at Wooli, was walking his dogs along One Tree beach, about two kilometres north of the Wooli bar, on a sunny August morning when he spotted something shimmering in the sand up ahead.
He picked up the camera, which was encased in underwater housing, and had a feeling he knew what he was holding in his hands.
“I just had this gut feeling, I remember the whole story – I was there when they capsized – all of Wooli was there because we knew they were coming in after the search,” he said.
Curious about his find, Steve contacted the Wooli Volunteer Rescue Association (now Marine Rescue, Wooli) which put him in contact with Peter, who gave the okay for Steve to view and share the photos.
“When I unscrewed the case I heard the air escape for a second, like a perfect vacuum, and I knew then that the camera was going to be okay,” Steve said. “The camera itself was in mint condition.”
Steve said he removed the memory card and took it to a Lismore camera shop where he was served, coincidentally, by the wife of a Westpac Rescue Helicopter worker who had attended the search.
He copied the images before sending the camera and card back to their rightful owner.
Speaking from his Sylvania home this week, Peter Trayhurn said he was thrilled and astounded to have the camera back.
Recovering from a recent bowel cancer operation, he said news of the find had lifted his spirits.
“Of all the things we lost, that was what I regretted losing the most,” he said.
“I never expected in a million years to see the camera or the photos.
“We dropped our scuba gear almost straight away and decided to swim ... it was a race for Australia ... we challenged ourselves to reach the mainland before we got rescued.
“We didn’t go too bad – we were about 4ks from land when they found us.
“Looking back, it was pretty bad – we’d been diving all day, I had really bad sunburn, salt in our eyes ... our muscles were getting dodgy and we were pretty thirsty. The wind chop just kept hitting us and it hurt.”
But, he said, giving up simply wasn’t an option.
“My family was waiting for me on the beach, my son took his first
steps while they were waiting,” he said.
“We had our fins (flippers) still, which were great.”
Peter said search vessels had come frustratingly close during their time lost at sea.
“We saw the big tanker cruising up and down for two hours, but we weren’t going to swim towards them in case they missed us,” he said.
“We saw our friends searching for us in the dive boat – less than 100 metres away and we were yelling at the top of our voices and they couldn’t hear us because of the conditions.”
Eventually it was the chemical freighter Sea Cat, which had diverted to join the search that found the pair – the vessel’s height a definite advantage in the choppy conditions.
Peter said the Sea Cat radioed their discovery and the Westpac Rescue Helicopter came and “eyeballed” the divers to make sure they were all right before a police vessel picked them up.
They then transferred to the Doubtless III, which headed for Wooli.
“Crossing at the bottom of the ebb tide in a short and jumbled sea, Doutless broached and capsized, tipping the rescued divers and crew once more into the sea,” said Stephen Reading from Marine Rescue, Wooli.
“Wooli Sea Rescue again responded and gave assistance to the five who all clambered onto the training wall or swam to Jones Beach to the south.”
Peter said he’d like to thank the Wooli VRA and the whole Wooli community for their help during the ordeal.
But, he said, special thanks, including a couple of bottles of scotch would be reserved for the skipper of the Sea Cat if he ever found him.