Court hears plight of two survivors after keel loss

One of two men who survived the sinking of a yacht off Australia has told a court how the ship sent to rescue them ran them over.

Excalibur, a racing yacht, was on its way to Sydney in September 2002 when it hit rough seas. The crew tried to reef and head back towards Port Stephens, but the keel fell off and the vessel overturned. Only two of the six sailors survived.

The boat’s builders have pleaded not guilty to four counts of manslaughter “arising from gross negligence” in the construction of the boat, in particular relating to ‘inadequate welds’ on the keel. The boat was completed four months before the incident.

One of the surviving crew told the court how most of the crew were below deck when about 9pm skipper Brian McDermott yelled out: “The keel’s gone.”

He and four of his crewmates were trapped under the capsized yacht but he cut himself free from a safety harness, feeling his way in the darkness until he came to the surface.

The two survivors hooked themselves together and floated for seven hours before being spotted by a rescue aircraft. It was deemed too dangerous to rescue the pair from the air, so a nearby ship was redirected.

“Unfortunately, the course was a little bit too accurate,” Mr Rogers said.

“Brian yelled out: ‘Oh, it’s a ship’ and I looked up and a 50,000-tonne cargo ship ran over us. It just literally creamed us. We went tumble, tumble, like you were in a tumble-dryer, straight underneath the ship.”

It then took 11 attempts to get them on board.

The trial continues.

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