A fisherman’s survival was an “absolute miracle,” police said after the man was rescued almost 24 hours after falling into the sea off the New Zealand coast, having used the reflection from his watch to signal for help.
The man, who has not been named, told officers that a shark came to “have a sniff,” Whangamatā Police Sgt. Will Hamilton said in a statement. Ultimately the creature decided on something else for dinner.
The angler’s ordeal began after he fell into the water off of New Zealand’s North Island on Tuesday while trying to reel in a marlin, Hamilton said.
The fisherman was “unable to catch the idling boat as it meandered further out of reach,” Hamilton said, adding that the man decided to swim to the Aldermen Islands, which sit around 35 miles off the North Island’s east coast.
Strong currents thwarted his plan, however, and Hamilton said the man “endured a cold night in the ocean, too exhausted to keep swimming.”
After he spent more than 23 hours in the water, Hamilton said three “eagle eyed” fishermen noticed an “unusual reflection” in the distance.
After deciding to investigate, Hamilton said, they found the man “desperately trying to get their attention using the reflection of the sun on his watch.” After pulling him from the water, they went to shore where an ambulance crew was waiting, Hamilton added.
“The man was hypothermic and exhausted when he was returned to land,” he said.
“The boaties did an absolute stellar job and without a doubt saved this man’s life,” Hamilton said. “Without the quick actions of the three gentlemen that retrieved him, this certainly would have had a tragic outcome.”
Max White, who was skippering the rescue boat, told New Zealand’s Newshub news service that it was “definitely an experience we won’t forget.” He added that it was “one that could’ve gone either way, but I’m glad it’s got a happy ending.”
In a note to police, Hamilton said, “the man said he wanted to go on record to thank Mike, Tyler and James for rescuing him, along with all the emergency services involved.”
“It is an absolute miracle the fisherman is still alive after the ordeal,” he added.
Police were still working to find the man’s boat, he said.
“The boat may be missing,” he said. “But the fisherman still has his watch.”