Thursday 26 April 2018

Backpackers rescued from flooded campervan in crocodile-infested Australian waters

Handout photo provided by ABC of a campervan stranded in Queensland. Photo: PA / Kristy Sexton, Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC News)
Handout photo provided by ABC of a campervan stranded in Queensland. Photo: PA / Kristy Sexton, Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC News)

Ryan Wilkinson

Three English backpackers have been saved from rising floodwaters in Australia after their campervan was submerged in a crocodile warning area.

Emergency services in Queensland launched a rescue mission after the men, in their early 20s, were spotted perched on the vehicle's roof, metres from a sign warning of the presence of the deadly animals.

The northern state's waterways are home to saltwater crocodiles, the largest species of the fearsome reptiles, that are known to occasionally prey on humans.

The group had arrived at the riverside area near Gordonvale, about 15 miles south of Cairns, on Monday evening, Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES) said.

Unluckily for the backpackers, they pitched up after several groups had left the campsite after being warned by a local of the risk from rapidly rising floodwaters.

QFES officer Guy Bulmer, who was first on the scene, told the Press Association: "During the night and the course of the evening they noticed water entering the campervan and there was a croc sign quite close by.

"The signs are not there for general information. It's quite specific, there are crocodiles there.

"They went to the roof of the van and it's not until they were seen this morning that someone saw them there - they had no shirts on either."

Handout photo provided by ABC of a campervan stranded in Queensland. Photo: PA / Kristy Sexton, Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC News)
Handout photo provided by ABC of a campervan stranded in Queensland. Photo: PA / Kristy Sexton, Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC News)

Rescue teams, along with paramedics and police went to the scene, arriving shortly after the alarm was raised at about 6am (7pm GMT Monday).

They found the campervan half-submerged, with about 100m of water between the vehicle and rescuers, who deployed an inflatable dingy.

"We had people on watch assisted by the police in case any crocs did turn up," Mr Bulmer said.

"They look like logs so they are hard to spot, but they are quite shy and we were making a lot of noise.

"I wouldn't have been surprised if they were around though.

"You've also got debris in the water, it's extremely dirty, so there is plenty of potential for injury and death."

Saltwater crocodiles can can live up 70 years and grow throughout their lives, reaching up to 23ft (7m) in length.

Mr Bulmer said there were also crocodile farms in the area, the closest about three miles from the scene, while a 13ft (4m) beast had recently been spotted about 7.5 miles away.

With floodwaters rising "quite a number of inches" during the operation on Tuesday, the rescuers were quick to take the men back to safety, with all three recovered in about 45 minutes.

"After we got them back to dry land they were certainly grateful," the officer said.

"They had a cold and wet night. They got warmed up and it was happy days because no-one got hurt.

"It can happen to anyone, and tourists don't have the local knowledge."

Mr Bulmer said the men "did the right thing" by staying put, rather than attempting to swim to safety.

"The worst case scenario would have been if they thought 'let's give it a go and swim' which would have been a potential life or death situation.

"You don't know what's in the water. Crocs, logs, debris."

The men are understood to have been reunited with their possessions and flown out of Cairns on Tuesday on a scheduled flight.

In November a British woman suffered cuts when she was bitten on the leg by a saltwater crocodile in Cape Tribulation, Queensland.

The previous month a crocodile was suspected of killing a dementia patient who wandered away from a nursing home in Port Douglas in the north of the state.

Human remains were found, along with the 79-year-old's clothes and walking stick, near a creek bank.

Press Association

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in World News