There are some tales of courage, endurance, and strength that defy all belief. The events which unfolded after Brett Archibald, 50, fell into the ocean off the coast of Indonesia is one such tale. Over the course of 29 hours, Brett learned just how strong the will to live is – and just how far one man will go to see his family again.
At roughly 2:30 AM on April 17th, 2013, Brett Archibald and a group of friends were well on their way to fulfilling a life-long dream. They had made the trip to Indonesia to surf in the waters off the coast of the famous Mentawai Islands. Brett was on deck alone, sick and unsteady when he passed out and fell overboard. No-one saw him fall, and in the choppy conditions, no-one heard his cries for help.
Treading water, Brett realized that he was in real trouble; he had to find a way to stay afloat until his crew eventually returned.
His crew did notice, of course, and retraced their steps, coming within 250 feet of him before turning back. By 6.30 pm that day poor weather forced all search parties back, and Brett faced a night in the water. Alone, sunburnt, and exhausted he was trying to stay hopeful when something bumped into his back. When a second bump pushed him through the water he peered beneath the surface and came face to face with a Black Tip Reef Shark. Reef sharks can be aggressive and have been known to attack humans. He contemplated how he could escape. They faced off for a few seconds, and then, just as it had come, the shark was gone.
In South Africa, Brett's wife Anita Archibald had received the news and was distraught, but she never gave up hope. Though his crew feared him dead, Anita knew he lived and she had, unknown to her, one staunch ally.
Tony ‘Doris’ Eltherington rallied four Australian charter boats and boarded his own; at the helm of the Barren, Joey he would set out in search of Brett. Through the evening and night Brett floated. He faced seagulls who were intent on feeding on his eyes and ears. When night fell, and he floated, prone, into a cloud of stinging jellyfish.
When dawn rose, it brought no comfort.
After nearly 20 hours in the water, his own mind began to turn against him. Brett had started to hallucinate. He saw his own boat, his friends and crew; their faces were so real that he swam to them and called out. He reached for their hands only to fall under the waves and resurface to the empty ocean.
‘Doris’ was closing in, but, of course, Brett couldn’t have known. As he crested his 28th hour in the ocean, he gave up.
Sinking beneath the water, Brett aimed to end his life. His body, however, and his love for his wife and family wouldn’t let him go just yet. He fought against his own choice and resurfaced, coughing, retching and renewed as Doris and his crew approached; against all odds, they found him.
When asked what spurred him to fight, even to the end, he said that it was his wife, Anita, and their children.
“I thought, I’ve only had ten years with this woman,” he said, “it’s not enough.”
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