MERSING: Thoughts of his wife and three young children kept Royal Malaysian Air Force Mej Aundrey Smith, 43, going as he fought rough seas to swim to safety after the boat carrying him and five other air force personnel capsized on Sunday.
Mej Smith and his colleagues, who are with the RMAF’s Special Forces team based in Banting, Selangor, were in the waters near Pulau Sibu off Mersing in Johor, looking for a place for training when their boat capsized at 10.30am.
Mej Smith and Sjn Radzi Abdul Majid, 35, reached the shores of Pasir Logok at 11.49pm later that day – almost 12 hours after their boat had capsized about 2km from Pulau Sibu and 12km off Mersing.
“My mind kept drifting to my wife and three children (two girls aged six and four and a two-year-old son).
“But Sjn Radzi and I had no fears because we have been trained to handle emergencies,” said Mej Smith, who preferred not to disclose the names of his wife and children.
Mej Smith, Sjn Radzi and their four other colleagues - Kapt Damian Sebastian, 30; Sjn Saad Che Omar, 34; Kpl Hasnul Abdul Rahman, 27; and Kpl Ayub Sidek, 27 had left the jetty at Tanjung Leman in Mersing at 8.30am on Sunday.
“One of the boat’s two engines failed after about an hour. After several minutes, the second engine also failed, resulting in them being unable to control the Explorer which drifted.
“We were then swept by a big wave and the boat capsized,” said Mej Smith.
He added that he then decided to send Kapt Sebastian out to get help, using their only pair of flippers.
“It was around noon when Kapt Sebastian set out. However, after waiting for three hours, I decided that the rest of us should split into two groups and swim for shore.
“Sjn Radzi and I were in one group. We tied ourselves together with ropes so that we would not drift apart. We could see the mainland and headed towards it.
“But at 5pm we were forced apart from the other three after a big wave hit us,” said Mej Smith yesterday when met at the Operations Centre at the Tanjung Leman jetty.
Kapt Sebastian had actually reached Pantai Rhu, which is about 9km from Tanjung Leman at 4pm.
The locals there alerted staff of the Pulau Sibu resort, who sent out search boats. The marine police were also alerted and a full-scale rescue operation was mounted.
Mej Smith said he was confident the three missing airmen would be rescued.
“They are all trained and strong men. Also, all of them were wearing the same life jackets as the ones Sjn Radzi and I wore,” he added.
Sjn Radzi said the life jacket he was wearing proved invaluable.
“With our energy sapped and muscle cramps all over, the life jacket kept us afloat under the huge waves,” he added.
Mersing Acting OCPD Asst Supt Abdul Aziz Abdul Latiff said yesterday that 211 personnel, including those from the navy, marine police and fishermen were involved in the search and rescue operation.
“The capsized boat was found at 9.30am today (Monday) about 1.5 nautical miles from Tanjung Sedili Kecil in Kota Tinggi.
“The rescue operation covers an area from Tanjung Leman to Tanjung Siang in Kota Tinggi, stretching about 10 nautical miles,” he added, saying the rescue operation would continue until the three missing airmen were found.
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