AS the trawler Coombell Star went down off the coast of Evans Head, Brett McMahon and Glenn Deas leapt into water they'd been watching sharks swim in a little earlier.
The suddenness of the sinking, which happened about 1.30am Thursday, when the trawler snagged on a fishing net and capsized, meant the men went into the water without life jackets and without activating the vessels emergency beacon.
The men were left clinging to buckets, floating in the dark water, worrying about the sharks they'd seen following the trawler.
That was when the first of two miraculous strokes of luck happened - a tinny that had been secured to the roof of the 45ft trawler came loose, and the two men were able to climb on board.
The second amazing stroke of luck followed soon after - the discovery that one of the fishermen's mobile phones had somehow survived being dunked in the ocean.
The men were able to use the phone to send a message to the crew of another trawler working in the area - the Havanna.
The Havanna sounded the alarm and a search was launched involving several commercial fishing vessels, Ballina Jet Boat Rescue and both the Ballina and Evans Head Marine Rescue units.
Ballina Jet Boat crewman Gary Meredith said they received a call about the trawler from police at 2.50am.
"We were on the water at 3.10am and at that stage we were told there was a trawler on fire between Evans Head and Ballina," he said.
During the search, the jet boat received a call from a commercial trawler in the area. The crew was able to give them a possible location, about 2km off Snapper Rock.
Using night vision equipment, the crew, Gary Meredith and Brad Heard, were able to pick up a light from the mobile phone, which the fishermen were using to attract attention.
"We pulled up beside them at 5.15am," Mr Meredith said.
"They were cold and in a little bit of shock.
"They were lucky that (the tinny) broke away when the boat sunk, because that gave them floatation.
"If that didn't break away, they had nothing.
"They also said to us they were concerned about sharks because they had a number of sharks following them when they were trawling, so that was one of the main concerns going through their heads when they were in the water."
A spokesperson for Ambulance NSW said both men were assessed and treated for exposure when they arrived on shore at the Evans Head Boat Harbour but neither required hospitalisation.
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