Les Brierley normally carried a personal locator beacon (PLB), but after cleaning it he forgot to take it with him when he took his boat to dive the famous Yongala wreck, near Russell Island south of Townsville.
Diving alone, Brierley was quickly picked up by strong currents that made it impossible for him to return to his moored but unmanned boat.
A friend called emergency services at about 6.45 on the evening of Sunday, 6 November, after Brierley failed to return.
A large search and rescue operation got under way and the boat was found during the night. However, Brierley was spotted only at around 11 on Monday morning, by a helicopter crew that was about to depart for refuelling following a 90-minute search.
He had drifted more than 30 miles from the Yongala site.
Referring to Brierley’s yellow cylinder framed against his black wetsuit, Alan Griffiths, the rescuer winched down to pick him up, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) that: “Black and yellow kind of stand out… I said to him: ‘G’day mate, do you want a lift?’”
Describing Brierley as “very lucky”, he said: “He went by himself, which is a bit naughty”.
Acting Police Inspector Graeme Paterson told ABC that calm conditions, warm waters and Brierley’s ability to stay afloat and save energy assisted the search efforts.
“Every hour that somebody spends in the ocean their chances diminish, so the fact that he’s been found in the first 24 hours is amazing,” he said.
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