Image from Elliot Foote Instagram

In what seems like the storyline from a Hollywood Blockbuster, four Australian surfers and three Indonesian boat crew members faced the ultimate survival test by being stranded at sea. 

The dangerous ordeal unfolded after a freak storm obliterated their boat 90 miles off the west coast of Sumatra on August 13. After being adrift for almost two days, six of the seven were found alive, but the search continues for Fifan Satria, one of the Indonesian crew members.

The surfers traveled to Sumatra, on the west coast of Indonesia, to celebrate their friend Elliot Foote’s 30th birthday. The trip began on a high note, with the friends enjoying hiking and searching for wildlife on the main island of Sumatra. They then moved to Nias Island, famous for its near-perfect right hand reef break. 

Two boats left North Nias Port that afternoon, bound for a remote island off the coast. When the freak storm formed over them, one boat sought refuge, while the other, carrying Foote and his companions, tried to continue. It was the last time they were seen before their boat vanished.

With no flares or radio, the stranded group found themselves in a nightmare scenario. With heavy winds and waves battering their boat, the group said they decided to jump into the water with their surfboards as floatation devices, just as the boat started to sink.  

The subsequent rescue operation involved boats, aircraft, drones, and even a privately chartered plane. An Australian captain, Grant Richardson, spearheaded the efforts, ultimately finding three survivors clinging to their surfboards. Foote was rescued separately by a fishing vessel.

Captain Yunardi Ardi, who was the captain of the fateful boat, told reporters that they had tried to swim to a nearby island using the sunset as their guide. The quick thinking of the crew and passengers to utilise their surfboards for flotation likely saved their lives. 

Looking back at the incident makes the team of friends and crew think of the devastating consequences of human error. The absence of basic safety gear like flares and a radio on a boat journey over open waters could have made rescue efforts much easier. 

The efficient response by Indonesia’s search and rescue agency, Basarnas, and the support from people like Captain Richardson and the families of the missing, were vital in the rescue efforts. 

While six of the seven stranded individuals were rescued, the search for missing crewman Fifan Satria was called off. Many experts doubt if he is still alive, with powerful currents and lack of water making it very difficult to survive. 

The tragedy serves as a sobering reminder of the unpredictability of nature. As the Australian survivors express their gratitude and condolences, Satria’s loss remains a painful reminder of the horrors they experienced. 

Surf trips come with inherent dangers yet being stranded at sea is usually not one of them. The Australians and surviving Indonesian crew members, this incident will forever be a reminder to appreciate every moment in life.