Australian who survived five days lost at sea breaks silence about ordeal

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From left: Anthony Mahoney, Lionel Ansselin and Laurie Miller. The three spent five days lost at sea off the Phillipines after abandoning their yacht. Mr Mahoney died in hospital shortly after their rescue.

An Australian who spent five days clinging to a dinghy in stormy seas off the Philippines has spoken of the ordeal that claimed his friend’s life.

Anthony ‘Johnny’ Mahoney, aged 73, was sailing the yacht Katerina from North Queensland to Subic with Laurie Miller, 69, and the boat’s new owner Lionel Ansselin, 74, when bad weather struck and the boat starting taking on water.

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The friends abandoned the yacht believing help was on the way, but were not rescued by Filipino fishermen until five days later. As we reported last year, during this time they were battered by storms and scorched by the sun.

Suffering from severe dehydration and multi-organ failure, Mr Mahoney died in hospital just hours they were returned to shore.

Breaking his silence about the events of last year, Mr Miller told The Courier Mail: “In the hospital, I stood by his bed and told him to get his arse in gear because he owed me a beer. But he never regained consciousness.” 

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The trio set sail from Cairns on November 24 and refuelled in Davao City before resuming their journey on December 11.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority received an alert beacon from the vessel on December 13 and two more distress signals the following day.

A British Merchant Navy sailor for more than four decades, Mr Miller told The Courier Mail it was his call to abandon the yacht.

“It was my belief, wrongly as it turned out, that people were out looking for us and any minute now we would hear a helicopter or boat engine coming towards us.

“I think about it now, ‘should we have stayed?’ But I think it was the right decision and nobody argued.”

Mr Mahoney’s condition deteriorated over the five days lost at sea. “He was getting delirious. We were all struggling, but Johnny more than us. We tethered him to the raft to keep him safe,” Mr Miller said.

The Katerina was later found in a sea-worthy condition, despite the battering it had taken in the rough waters.

The yacht had previously completed crossings of the Pacific, the Tasman and the Atlantic. It was formerly known as the Wyntje while owned by legendary newsman Walter Cronkite, and once hosted Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Mr Miller will return to sea for the first time since the tragedy next week to help deliver a boat to Fiji.

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