RESCUERS had to search the huge expanse of the Lake Hume in almost complete darkness for a missing father and his two young children.
They had found Damian Wilson’s jacket floating in the lake with his keys and wallet inside and there were still no signs of him or Caitlyn, 11, and Bailey, 8.
“It was the proverbial needle in a haystack because the water is right up there and where do you start?” Volunteer Rescue Association’s Paul Marshall said.
But it would be the “best outcome” for Albury police and the reason why the 20 people from Albury’s VRA and State Emergency Service volunteer their time for the services.
The VRA was called about 8pm after Mr Wilson’s Thurgoona-based partner phoned police to tell them Mr Wilson and his children, from Lancefield, had failed to meet her at the Bowna Reserve boat ramp on Wednesday afternoon.
They launched two boats while other volunteers traced the shoreline.
“We could hear them calling out because it was so still,” Mr Marshall said.
Faint cries of “Help!” and “Over here!” echoed across the eerie lake.
“The sound was bouncing off the other shore and stuff like that so it made it difficult to locate them,” Mr Marshall said.
They then called in the SES and coast guard to assist and more boat and shoreline searches were launched.
“We had to discount everything possible. There was flashing lights on the Weir at one stage which turned out to be another fishing boat and then we spotted another, which turned out to be another couple of fishermen,” Mr Marshall said.
SES volunteers Tim Keown and Tim Archer found Mr Wilson’s jacket floating in the water before they finally came across the trio at 11.30pm, clinging to a tree, hours after their boat capsized, and about 500 metres from shore.
“They were in good spirits,” Mr Keown said.
Albury police Inspector Lynelle Rodwell said it was a “remarkable” test of strength for the Wilsons, particularly for Caitlyn and Bailey.
Emergency services praised the family for wearing life-jackets, but reminded boaters to wrap mobile phones in a water-tight bag and take a torch out with them.
Mr Keown described it as the “best outcome”.
Mr Marshall said there was always friendly rivalry between emergency services but that changes in situations like Wednesday night.
“It doesn’t matter what colour truck you come out on, we’re there for the same reason. We’re there to help,” he said.