HOPES of finding an Irish fisherman alive are fading after police last night called off a three-day air search of the seas north-east of Mackay.
However, police, Mackay Volunteer Marine Rescue (VMR) and SES volunteers will continue a water and land search of the islands and land masses in the area from first light today.
The search began around 8pm Friday after it was reported the 21-year-old man had fallen overboard from Bundaberg-based fishing trawler The Guiding Star in the area around Scawfell and St Bees islands.
It is believed the man, a backpacker, was on his first fishing trip when he fell from the roof of the trawler sometime between 5pm and 7pm on Friday.
Whitsunday Water Police officer in charge Sergeant Graeme Pettigrew said more than an hour passed before any crew members on the vessel noticed the man was missing.
Last night Sgt Pettigrew said any chance of finding him alive was slim.
“Medical records show that the man's survival rate past dark tonight (yesterday) is considered very low – it would be a miracle if he was found alive after today (yesterday).
“We have conducted a final search of the area this afternoon (yesterday) by helicopters and have decided to suspend the air search; but the deputy commissioner has told us he would like us to continue the search on the islands and land masses surrounding the area where the man was reported missing.
“I believe it was the man's first fishing trip and he had arrived in Australia about a month ago as a tourist but had not long got himself a working visa.
“He was travelling with a friend, who was also working and living with him on the fishing trawler.”
Sgt Pettigrew said he had been in contact with the man's family and had been keeping them up to date with the search via email.
The search began first thing Friday night with the help of Mackay Volunteer Marine Rescue (VRM) vessel, Reef Star Cruises 2001, Mackay SES and the RACQ-CQ Rescue helicopter.
“On Saturday we had nine air assets, including four fixed-wing and five rotary-wing aircraft and three rescue vessels including the Queensland Police Service boat,” Sgt Pettigrew said.
“Today (yesterday) six helicopters, including the RACQ-CQ Rescue helicopter, three fixed wing aircraft and four boats searched the waters off Mackay and SES volunteers conducted land searches on St Bees and Calder islands, in case he was able to swim ashore and is sitting waiting for us to find him.
“Yesterday we wanted to do a thorough search of St Bees Island as it was the most likely island he would have made it to, if he was to make it to land. We had the local SES controller in the rescue helicopter conducting a low and slow detailed search of the land.
“On behalf of the Queensland Police Service I would like to thank VRM Midge Point, Whitsunday and Mackay, SES volunteers and anyone else who has helped us out of the past 48 hours. Everyone has been exceptional.”
Mackay VMR, which is based at Mackay Harbour was used by the Whitsunday Water Police as their base for the sea search.
RACQ-CQ Rescue helicopter general manager Phil Dowler said the helicopter was the only aircraft among the aerial search team with winch capabilities and the crew consisted of a pilot, air crewman, rescue crewman and a doctor.
In the meantime Marine Safety Queensland would be involved with police investigations, Sgt Pettigrew said.
Recreational boat users or fishermen in the waters east of Mackay Harbour are urged to keep a lookout and, if they see anything, to contact Mackay police on 49683444.
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