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DIVER SURVIVES 40HRS IN SHARK-INFESTED SEA; I just kept thinking of survival, says Paul.

BRITON Paul Lucas told last night of his miraculous rescue after 40 hours lost in shark-infested waters.

Backpacker Paul got into trouble on a scuba diving trip and was swept away from his companions by strong currents.

As a massive search failed to find him Paul fought for 24 hours to stay afloat using his oxygen tank for buoyancy, then endured 16 hours lashed by wild seas on an isolated rock. Finally he was spotted early yesterday by a passing motor cruiser.

"There were times I thought I was never going to make it," bachelor Paul, 37, said from his hospital bed.

"Just trying to stay afloat hour after hour, particularly when darkness fell, was an experience I never want to go through again."

Police chief Ian Watson, who led the search, said: "He's very lucky the sharks didn't get him. Being in the water that long and that far out has its hazards.

"None of us could believe it. I'd say he's the luckiest man alive."

Paul, a freelance computer programmer, was on a 10-week solo world tour when he joined the diving trip at Coffs Harbour in New South Wales, Australia.

He had trouble with his buoyancy vest and kept sinking and rising to the surface as he tried to adjust the air inside.

"I waved to the dive boat to let them know I was having a problem. But the sea was quite choppy and I was now some way from the boat and they couldn't see me at all.

"I knew then that I would have to do everything I could to stay afloat until someone found me.

"Hours went by and darkness fell. I was swallowing so much seawater I felt sick but I knew I had to stay afloat and try to reach land."

He concentrated on keeping his head above water - "it was survival, survival, survival - that's all I could think of.

"I turned on my back, I turned on my front, I swam sideways - I did everything to stay alive as best I could but the current kept taking me away from the coast."

Back at the dive boat a search was started by the instructors but there was no sign of him.

As fears grew they alerted rescue services ashore. Water police, a helicopter and small planes joined the hunt. At 9pm the operation was called off for the night, then resumed for the whole of Thursday.

But "we had started to think in terms of looking for a body", said Senior Police Constable Ian Watson. "We were certain he would not be found alive."

Police notified the British consulate and Interpol, warning them to prepare to break the bad news to Paul's family.

But meanwhile Paul had spotted the lonely rock and "I knew I had to get there", he said.

"I realised it was going to be my only chance and somehow I made it after staying afloat for some 24 hours.

"Although the water was not freezing I was very cold and completely exhausted. I managed to find a crevice and climb into it to stay out of the wind during that second night."

Shortly after dawn the crew of motor cruiser Dreamtime saw Paul jumping on the rock.

Police were about to launch a boat with a special team of divers ready to search underwater for a body.

"It was tremendous news - we had given him up for dead, no doubt about that," said Constable Watson.

"We are still mystified why we did not spot him earlier. The only explanation is that we didn't see him in the waves that were up to 12ft high."

Paul was taken to Coffs Harbour hospital very weak and dehydrated, vomiting seawater and covered in bruises and insect bites. But Dr Alan Tankel said he was in "remarkably good condition considering what he has been through".

Hospital manager Julia Colvin said she hoped he would be well enough to leave in a few days.

Back home in Oadby, Leics, his widowed mum Rosina, 69, said they were giving up hope - "now we are on top of the world.

"It really is a miracle and I think it's partly down to the fact that he's not a panicky type. He's a cool character and he's also very fit. He's just not the type to give up.

"I can't describe how I feel. I didn't sleep at all last night - it has been a dreadful time."

Brother Gerard, 41, said: "No one dared mention the shark word throughout the night, even though we all thinking about what might have happened.

"He has spoken to the family on the phone and sounded quite laid back about it all - but that would be typical of Paul.

"We are just delighted he is OK and we are looking forward to a family reunion celebration."
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Author:McGURRAN, AIDAN; Chaytor, Rod
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 8, 2000
Words:808
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