Search continues for two anglers


RESCUE crews yesterday failed to find any sign of the two fishermen missing off Coffs Harbour's Northern Beaches since Saturday night.

Planes, boats and helicopters were used to cover an area of 300 square nautical miles of sea between Red Rock and Coffs Harbour.

It meant a long, distressing and frustrating day for the families of the two men, as well as their two fishing partners who made it back to shore.

Four men set off from Ar-rawarra Beach in their white five-metre fibreglass runabout on Saturday afternoon, but only two ? a 33-year-old and a 23-year-old ? have been accounted for.

Police hold grave concerns for the safety of the two other men, 39 and 43, and believe their boat could be submerged.

As the search for the men continues today, police divers plan to use sonar equipment to try to find the runabout in the area where two eskies, a lifejacket and other items were found floating off Woolgoolga.

Sergeant Tony Hill, who is overseeing these efforts from Sydney's State Marine Search and Rescue Co-ordination Centre, said the boat capsized about 6pm Saturday, but he could not confirm persistent rumours a whale was to blame.

"It was initially thought the accident happened near North West Solitary Island, but we now believe it was closer to shore, near Arrawarra," Sgt Hill said.

The 33-year-old swam to the shoreline, climbing up over rocks to finally reach Mullaway Beach, where he raised the alarm at 9pm.

The 23-year-old made it back to the same beach shortly afterwards with the aid of a fuel tank.

They were treated at the scene by ambulance officers for their injuries, and later taken to Coffs Harbour Health Campus before being discharged. That night, search co-ordinators deployed an aerial patrol plane carrying infra-red technology to detect heat in the water.

The search continued on Sunday with two fixed-wing aircraft, four helicopters, police launches from Coffs Harbour and Port Stephens, and volunteer rescue craft from Nambucca Heads, Woolgoolga and Wooli, but it was suspended that night.

A search and rescue plane was again tasked at first light yesterday, and was joined by two police launches and volunteers from Wooli. Local police and SES personnel also combed the coastline.

"We've had favourable conditions for the search today, with swells of up to one metre, light winds and good visibility," Sgt Hill said.

"If anyone sees anything, they should contact Coffs Harbour police on 6652 0299."

The Advocate yesterday spoke to the family of one of the men who made it to shore but they did not want to be interviewed or to be identified while the search continued.

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