A COUPLE drowned and a man swam up to a kilometre to safety after a small boat capsized during a night fishing trip off Sydney.
The bodies of Norman Baeger and Susan Brown, from Casula, were found floating off Wanda Beach, Cronulla, early yesterday.
The couple, who have four small children including a four-month-old baby, had set off with a friend, Sean Buckley, 32, of Randwick, from the nearby Port Hacking boat ramp in a six-metre aluminium runabout at 2.30am.
Mr Buckley, the owner and skipper of the boat, said the vessel capsized after hitting a large wave or reef. He managed to swim and cling to the upturned boat for about an hour before being washed up.
He then ran about 500 metres to Sanderson Street, Cronulla, where he knocked on the door of a house to raise the alarm.
Peter Williams, his wife and three children were asleep when Mr Buckley, distraught, with a large gash on his forehead and naked bar a lifejacket, woke them about 4am.
"He said, 'Please, please, please, I beg you, please help me,"' Mr Williams said. "What do you do when you've got a bloke standing outside your front door in this day and age and he's naked? You think, 'What sort of lunatic are you?"'
Mr Williams said he first thought Mr Buckley was drunk. After hearing his story he called triple-0.
"He said they were going fishing," Mr Williams said. "His two friends were lost. He wanted to find his friends. I really feel sorry for this bloke. He said it was a freak wave or reef or something. He didn't know how it happened."
Mr Williams said Mr Buckley told him his friends were a husband and wife. "He said he took his clothes off because he was starting to sink. He said how lucky he was to be alive. He was just sobbing out of control for some minutes and then he'd say, 'I'm really sorry."'
Mr Buckley was treated for hypothermia before being taken to Sutherland Hospital. A hospital spokesman said he walked out of the hospital "on his own steam" about 1pm.
Mr Baeger's father, Adolph, told Channel Ten news his son, 36, "worked hard. He was a decent man". Ms Brown's sister, Theresa, said the couple's newborn had been her sister's priority.
The matter has been referred to the coroner. Detective Inspector Rohan Cramsie, of Miranda police, said it was too early to say if any charges would be laid.
People who fish in the area say the waters are known to be unpredictable - there is a sandbar not far from shore.
I am impressed that the reporter tracked down Mr. Williams, whose family were woke up at 4 am by the survivor, Mr. Buckley, to call for help. The comment "He said it was a freak wave or reef or something. He didn't know how it happened." is totally plausible. It just happened, no one knows how it happened. And the last sentence about the "waters are known to be unpredictable" should be a timely warning again for anyone on the beach or go fishing to the sea. It's nice recreation area generally. But one just can not take anything for granted. They always happen. We just don't know where, when, why, what or how! It is a sad tragedy: in just an unpredictable moment, four children including a newborn baby lost their loving parents. May God's blessings be with them all!
Again for us outsiders, Cronulla is located directly south of Sydney. Here's a picture of the beach:
And here's the boat of the sad fishing trip being recovered by police and divers: