When friends Scott Smiles and Rick Matthews set out on a fishing trip with their 11-year-old sons off the coast of Sydney, Australia yesterday, they had no idea the cooler used to carry their drinks, along with quick thinking, would save their lives.
The group was five miles offshore when the men noticed black smoke in their 40-foot cruiser. The boat was on fire and sinking fast.
Matthews woke the boys who'd been napping, strapped them into their life jackets and all three leapt into the water. With no time left, and no life jacket on, Smiles grabbed a GPS emergency beacon, threw the cooler overboard and jumped. "Just something to float on. I knew we would be in the water…the boat was almost vertical," Smiles said.
Within minutes, their boat disappeared from the surface of the sea. With no life jackets, the cooler was all Matthews and Smiles had to keep their heads above water. The four had been clinging to the bobbing cooler for 45 minutes, in waters 200 feet deep, when a rescue helicopter spotted them and dropped an emergency life raft. "I'd seen the helicopter, then there was a big bang, the thing hit the water and this big raft almost hit me," said Smiles' son Riley.
All four were taken back to shore aboard a police rescue boat. Matthews was treated for chemical burns on his legs from leaking marine fuel. Smiles and the two boys were unharmed.
Emergency officials say if Smiles hadn't grabbed the emergency beacon, which told rescuers precisely where to find them, the four likely would have drowned.