Shipwrecked Kiwi survives sharks, wild seas

Last updated 18:25 14/10/2008

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A New Zealand woman shipwrecked in shark infested waters off Fiji has been rescued and taken to a tropical island resort – named after Robinson Crusoe.

Ali Timms, a Southland Regional Council member, was sailing with Australians Cameron Slagle and Elizabeth Schoch in a 10m ketch on Sunday when the trio ran into rough weather.

Things got worse when the yacht's engine began giving trouble splashing boiling water over Mr Slagle's face and legs.

With the engine not working they tried to steer the yacht through a treacherous passage between two islands to reach safety.

But the yacht struck a reef shortly before midnight and began sinking in 5m swells.

"The boat was thrashing up hard against the reef," Mr Slagle told Australian TV's Channel 9.

The three abandoned ship as the deck slipped below the water, Ms Schoch and Mrs Timms climbing into a two-person inflatable dinghy, while Mr Slagle clung to the side but not before making a mayday call.

"The sea was so vicious, it dragged us back towards the boat as the mast came smashing down and punctured the dinghy," Mr Slagle said.

Left clinging to the deflating dinghy which had already lost its emergency supplies of first aid, food and fresh water, they didn't know the Beqa Island reef where they were stranded was world famous for man-eating sharks.

Their feet were cut by coral and bled into the water as they bobbed among the huge seas for nearly seven hours.

Mr Slagle's mayday call was relayed to a cruising catamaran captained by an American on holiday with his wife and two children.

Maurice Sonti sailed for two hours to reach Beqa reef and pull Ms Timms and her companions aboard at 6.30am on Monday.

"His exact words were: My name is Captain Maurice, I'm your rescue this morning," Mr Slagle said.

"It was a teary moment.

Mr Sonti sailed the stranded crew to nearby Robinson Crusoe Island.

Ms Timms and her companions were reported to be flying to Brisbane late today.

- NZPA

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