22 April 2024

Search for missing Saibai Island boy ends in tragedy after crocodile attack

| Lyndon Keane
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Police have confirmed the body of a 16-year-old boy located at Saibai Island on 18 April had injuries consistent with a crocodile attack. Photo: Queensland Police Service.

The search for a missing 16-year-old Saibai Island boy ended in tragedy last week after he was attacked by a saltwater crocodile while attempting to swim to safety from an incapacitated dinghy.

Police initially launched a search and rescue operation in the early hours of 18 April following the disappearance of the boy, with reports he and a 13-year-old boy had tried to swim to shore after their boat suffered engine trouble.

A 13-year-old made it back to shore, but the 16-year-old boy remained missing, sparking a frantic search before a body was discovered in mangroves on the island at about 4pm on Thursday afternoon.

Police confirmed the body had “injuries consistent with a crocodile attack”, but Senior Sergeant Greg Giles said it had not been known whether a crocodile was involved at the time of the search.

“We weren’t sure at that stage,” he said.

“We weren’t sure if the boy had just unfortunately drowned, or whether he had been taken by a crocodile.

“The 13-year-old had made it back to shore, alerted his family, who then contacted water police in Thursday Island.”

READ ALSO Defence department sued after soldiers attacked by croc in the Cape

Senior Sergeant Giles said the pair made the decision to abandon their dinghy and swim approximately 500 metres back to shore after the vessel started to take on water.

“As far as we understand, they were headed out into the Torres Strait,” he said.

“We understand the boat they were in had engine trouble and then started taking on water.

“It was quite rough at the time … so the boat was taking on water, and because they couldn’t start the engine, they decided to swim back.

The boys were in waist-deep water when the attack is believed to have occurred, although the 13-year-old boy did not see a crocodile.

“At the time when the other boy went missing, they were in waist-deep water, so it would have only been a few minutes before he got to shore,” Senior Sergeant Giles said.

Cape York Weekly understands the teenagers were cousins, however, police would not confirm this.

A 3.5-metre crocodile is believed to be responsible for the fatal attack, and Department of Environment, Science and Innovation program coordinator Simon Booth said the reptile would be identified and removed.

“The community has indicated that they would like the crocodile removed from the wild, and that’s consistent with the Queensland Government crocodile management plan following an attack on a person,” Mr Booth said.

Saibai Island is in the far north of the Torres Strait, approximately 380 kilometres north of Weipa, and only four kilometres from the Papua New Guinea mainland.

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