Lost at sea, surfer rescued from circling shark and vicious gull

Saved: Brett Archibald climbs to safety watched by David Carbon (left) and Colin Chenu (right). Photo: Jeff Vidler
Saved: Brett Archibald climbs to safety watched by David Carbon (left) and Colin Chenu (right). Photo: Jeff Vidler

An Australian surfer who helped rescue a 50-year-old fellow surfer who had been lost in Indonesian waters for 27 hours has told of the moment he and eight mates spotted him, still alive, bobbing in the ocean.

When Perth lawyer Colin Chenu and his crew saw ''a red head and a white arm waving'' nearly 20 kilometres from the Mentawi Islands, off the west coast of Sumatra, they approached and threw a lifebuoy then jumped over the side of their Sydney-owned charter boat and swam to the stricken man, who was dehydrated and suffering a bloody gash from a vicious seagull attack. He had also endured a circling shark and been stung by jellyfish.

Embracing his rescuers, the South African surfer, Brett Archibald, whose wife had been told he was dead, said: ''I love you Aussies, I'm never going to bag you guys ever again.''

''It was a feeling of sheer elation, when we dragged him onto the boat, we were all pumping the air and screaming,'' 49-year-old Mr Chenu said, speaking to Fairfax Media from Tua Paget.

''He was a pretty tough bugger, a surfer, a mountain biker, and he told us he had been treading water the whole time in rough seas,'' Mr Chenu said.

''He said he had been seasick the night before and vomited so much that he blacked out and fell overboard. He said he woke up in the water and saw his boat, the Nagalout, sailing into the distance.''

Mr Chenu was on a surfing holiday with eight others off the Mentawai Islands. They were on their way back to Australia when one of their Indonesian crew heard from the harbourmaster at Tua Paget that a man had been lost at sea. The boat's skipper Tony Etherington sprung into action and began a search and rescue effort. He refused to give up.

''Etherington got the co-ordinates of where the man had supposedly fallen overboard and insisted we mount a search,'' said Mr Chenu.

''We headed out in terrible weather in a small 25-foot boat and spent about four hours looking, but we were forced to turn back to port before dark. It was blowing 20 knots, the weather was bad, there were so many peaks and troughs and we thought, 'This poor bastard is out in this?'''

The next day, the wind had abated and visibility was much better.

''At about 4am the next day - 24 hours after Archibald had gone overboard - the skipper wanted to give it one last try and told us we'd be at the spot by daybreak.

''The one saving grace was that the water is warm. If this had happened in Australian waters he would never have survived.''

The men were taking turns on watch when - at 7.15am - one of the crew yelled out: ''There he is!''

Suffering a bloody nose and shrivelled fingers, the remarkably lucid Mr Archibald collapsed into the arms of his saviours and found the strength to climb onto the deck of the Barrenjoey amid cheers from the Australians.

Heaping praise on the surfers who didn't give up, Mr Archibald was examined by a doctor among the surfing group and fed and rehydrated.

Mr Archibald called his distraught wife in Cape Town who was being consoled after she had been earlier advised that he had been lost at sea.

Correction: The caption in the original version of this story identified the rescuer to the left of Brett Archibald as David Carbon rather than Simon Carlin.

This story Lost at sea, surfer rescued from circling shark and vicious gull first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.