South African surfer Brett Archibald survived 28 hours floating in the ocean after he fell overboard on the first night of his Mentawai Islands surf charter.
Archibald was on a charter with 10 of his mates. It was the group’s 7th trip to the Mentawais. At 6pm they set out for Sipora aboard the charter boat Naga Laut. The charter passengers and 7 crew had dinner and eventually the passengers retired to their cabins to sleep. During the night the Naga Laut hit a storm in the 90 mile strait between Sumatra and the Mentawais. Archibald later said he was seasick in the night and went on deck where he vomited twice and then passed out. When he woke up he was in the ocean and the Naga Laut was almost a 100m off, heading away from him. It was 3.15 a.m. and no one on board was aware he was missing until breakfast at around 8 a.m.
During his ordeal Archibald described how he almost drowned several times and even tried to drown himself when he gave up hope. When that failed he worked on staying alive by floating on his back and swimming intermittently. He was stung by jellyfish, nudged by sharks and even had to fight off seagulls trying pack his eyes out.
“I treaded water all night, I saw a couple of islands and tried swimming to them but the current was too hectic,” Archibald told Australia’s Surfing Life magazine who managed to contact him by phone soon after his rescue. “I wasn’t able to kick, so I just floated with the current. This morning I saw a couple more islands, but again I couldn’t get to them.”
A search and rescue operation was started as soon as the Naga Laut realized he was missing. The boat turned around and retraced its path adjusting for the westward-flowing current, while several other charter boats in the area and Indonesian Search and Rescue also searched all day and night.
The Naga Laut actually passed within 200m of Archibald but in the high seas they were unable to see him. “I knew I was in real trouble,” said Archibald.
Then, on the morning of the 2nd day, his friend Jean-Marc Tostee and the rest of the crew got some news over the radio. “‘We Found Him! We Found him! ..and he’s Alive!!.’These were the words that greeted us at dawn,” said Tostee. “A boat named the Barrenjoey had picked up Brett Archibald out of the deep blue open expanse of ocean when they spotted Brett holding onto a log and drifting slowly towards shore.”
Barrenjoey was one of the private surf charter boats that had joined the search and early that morning they passed close to Archibald.
“I saw these masts and started swimming towards them,” Archibald told ASL. “Obviously they were trying to find me but they weren’t coming straight for me, they were going to miss me by 200 metres. I couldn’t whistle my mouth was so dry, so I just started hollering. [Captain] Tony [Etherington] heard me but he couldn’t see! They eventually pinpointed the noise and found me in the binoculars and came and picked me up. I tell you, I’d never been so happy to see a boat in my entire life, even if it was full of Aussies! I’m a converted Aussie, I love these guys!”
Back on board the Naga Laut, his mate Jean-Marc Tostee says his friends were ecstatic. “The jubilation from 8 close mates and the boat crew aboard the Naga Laut was indescribable. Grown men dancing ,hugging, high-fiving…and crying all at the same time. All the build up of an intensely sullen and sombre 28 hours has finally broken ..and the emotions poured out. We had held on to the belief that if anyone would have the mental stamina to quite literally “go with the flow” then it would be Archie!..And he proved our faith right.”
Barrenjoey happened to have a doctor on board and he treated Archibald who was described as dehydrated and weak, but otherwise in good shape. Amid scenes of huge celebration he was transferred this morning back to the Naga Laut. Archibald has now resumed his charter, claiming there’s no time for hospital because … well … they’ve only got 8 days left of their surf charter and there’s a new swell just arriving.
[Editors note: We were unable to contact Brett Archibald directly because he'd gone back out to sea, so the information and photos in this story come from the Facebook pages of Brett Archibald and his friend JM Tostee, as well as some key quotes from ASL.]