As Allison Hugo battled to stay above the wild waves, her heart sank – she thought her daughter was gone. The Tieri woman was on her way back from Great Keppel Island when a big wave overturned her family’s 6m boat on Australia Day.
So began a terrifying and exhausting ordeal that saw the family cling to their upturned vessel for hours as waves battered the boat.
While Allison and her two sons Alex, 12, and Adam, 15, were thrown overboard and her husband Kim and her 13-year-old daughter Lauren were trapped underneath.
Kim emerged quickly, but Lauren found an air pocket in the hull and stayed there as debris floated around her. “I thought she was dead,” Allison said. “It just happened so quickly… it was so horrific.” As Allison screamed for her daughter, Kim dove into the dark water looking for her and managed to pull her out after she took off her lifejacket.
Relieved to be safe, and with only some scrapes and bruises, the family clung to the vessel for hours before the RACQ Capricorn Helicopter Rescue Service spotted Kim waving his red and yellow life jacket at them. “It was pretty frightening because my life jacket had busted and I’m not a strong swimmer,” Allison said. “It was getting rougher and rougher. We held onto the boat, but we kept getting washed off.”
The family had originally planned to come back on Monday, but decided to leave early after hearing the weather would get worse. They were only 3km from Rosslyn Bay when they were knocked into the water. Their EPIRB beacon was caught in the front of the boat, and Allison said it took a long time for Kim to locate it. Fortunately, the coast guard had already been notified by concerned friends who travelled back on the ferry. When the helicopter first flew over the Hugos thought they had missed them, but there were screams of joy when it circled around and winched them to safety.
“We feel awful, but really grateful we’re alive,” Allison said. “All I can say is people need to have one of those EPIRBs.”
Their boat washed up on Farnborough beach during the night. Yesterday morning they went down to survey the damage and were amazed to find some of their belongings still inside, including wallets, wetsuits, a waterlogged camera and a handbag. Allison thanked the RACQ Capricorn Helicopter Rescue Service.
The EPIRB utilised by the Hugo family during this emergency was a GME MT400.
Story supplied by The Morning Bulletin, Rockhampton.