DARWIN, Northern Territory, Australia – Four Dutchmen who spent a terrifying day trapped up a tree hiding from a crocodile finally rescued yesterday – luckily with only bites from mosquitoes and sand flies.
The construction workers had been crab fishing in Australia when their small tin boat overturned while they were in the country’s remote Northern Territory.
They were unable to turn it upright so they swam towards a thick clump of mangrove trees, which grow out of the swampy water. But, unfortunately for the four, who are all aged in their 30s, there was a huge crocodile in the same area.
In fear and desperation, they swam towards mangroves and clambered up on the highest trees they could find. The four were forced to shelter there for 22 hours while they waited to be rescued, spending a sleepless night hanging on to the branches.
‘It was a horrible experience,’ one of the men, covered in thick black swamp mud, told his rescuers. ‘It scared the s*** out of us.’
Crocodile experts in Darwin said if the men had been able to shine a torch into the dark water beneath them there is little doubt they would have seen the reflected red eyes of a number of crocodiles waiting for them to make the mistake of getting back into the water.
The mangrove swamps of the Northern Territory are alive with man-eating saltwater crocodiles – ‘salties’, as they are known – and there have been numerous deaths, despite warnings for people to stay out of the water.
Having seen a large crocodile themselves, there was no chance of the men getting out of their tree during the night. They told their rescuers that despite their discomfort they agreed they were going to cling to the branches throughout the night.
Only when the tide dropped yesterday morning did the men agree to take a chance and swim the short distance back to their boat. They were able to swim under the upturned vessel and retrieve a distress beacon.
When the Australian Maritime Safety Authority received the signal, a police launch and a helicopter were despatched to pick up the men.
The helicopter reached them first and winched them out of the water and flew them back to Darwin.
Their arms and legs were covered in sandfly and mosquito bites and they were suffering from dehydration and lack of sleep. They were also covered in thick black mud.
Police experts agreed that if the men had not been able to summon help with their beacon it is doubtful they would have survived their ordeal. Their strength, whether they were still in a tree or clinging to their upturned boat, would have soon drained – and crocodiles would have moved in for the kill.
‘We’ve vowed not to go fishing for a while,’ said one of the men. ‘But we still have to go back out there to help recover the little boat which we had borrowed.
‘This time we’ll make sure we don’t tip over.’