Miracle Moment a Man Survives 24 Hours in Crocodile-Infested Waters on a Piece of Floorboard After His Boat Capsized

“This is a Christmas miracle.”

In an incident being referred to as a "Christmas miracle," a man survived 24 hours in dangerous, shark and crocodile-infested waters holding on to nothing more than a piece of wood—he wasn't even floating on the wood, just using it to keep himself from going under. The 31-year-old man was essentially paddling in the rough Torres Strait ocean in Northern Australia for 24 hours after his boat capsized, and bad weather meant rescue teams couldn't go out to look for him. Here's what happened and how the man was found.

Reported Missing

Australia Maritime Safety Authority

The man had been island-hopping in the Torres Strait when his boat capsized on Tuesday, December 20, after he set sail at 11 am. The man had no choice but to cling to wood from the floorboards of the boat and didn't have a life jacket to keep him safe. When he didn't arrive at the next island as planned, he was reported as missing.

Poor Weather


The man's disappearance sparked off an expansive rescue effort, but poor weather conditions severely limited the work of emergency services. Helicopters could not be deployed, and the man didn't have a beacon or flare to guide rescuers to his position.

No Hope


Rescuers resumed the search on Wednesday morning at 5.30 am, using three helicopters and a fixed-wing aircraft, plus an additional two Border Force helicopters. Seven local water vehicles and a volunteer marine rescue team also assisted the search team in their efforts to locate the man. At this point, there was little hope he would be found alive. 

Finally Found

Australia Maritime Safety Authority

The man's capsized dinghy was spotted by one of the planes, and the man was found floating approximately 8 miles away. "At 10.25 am around Harveys Rock the (rescue) jet located the overturned dinghy, the police vessel attend the location and they then found the gentleman seven nautical miles (13km) north of Thursday Island floating on a piece of wood from the dinghy," said Senior Sergeant Anthony Moynihan, head officer of the Thursday Island Police Station.

A Miracle

Australia Maritime Safety Authority

The man was taken to safety, in what Sgt. Moynihan calls the best possible outcome. "This is a Christmas miracle," he said. "The weather up here was horrendous, it was too wild for a helicopter." He thanked the search and rescue teams and reminded others who wanted to boat in the strait to take a free safety kit with them.

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more
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