"He had less than a 5 per cent chance of survival"


"IT will be all right dad, we will be all right, they will rescue us."

These were the simple words seven-year-old Julian Hohnen told his father in a calm, reassuring and matter-of-fact way, as the two and their friend Stephen Jeacocke, 48, trod water in the pitch black, 15km off the Caloundra coastline.

This was the beginning of a six-hour ordeal that would almost claim the young fisherman's life.

Moments before Julian's father had been woken when their 5.2m boat started taking on water, as they slept on an overnight fishing trip on June 9.

Maike Hohnen, 40, said he woke to the boat rocking in a different way and felt his feet were wet.

"I realised something wasn't right, I got up and the boat was taking on water, waves were crashing over the stern," he said.

"I yelled to Stephen to wake up, something was wrong, I turned the bilge pump on and tried to turn the motor, but it wouldn't start."

Mr Hohnen managed to get two distress calls over the radio, before the boat rolled, throwing Mr Jeacocke overboard and trapping the father and son.

Mr Hohnen and Julian managed to swim to the surface, followed by two 5lt buckets that floated to the top, giving the men something to cling to in the dark, choppy waters.

Elimbah boy, Julian Hohnen.
Elimbah boy, Julian Hohnen.

It was just before 2am and it would be almost six hours before a massive search crew would find the trio.

Mr Hohnen said his young son was never scared and kept them all calm, until he began to succumb to the cold and swallow water.

"If there is one thing I can say about Julian, he is brave," he said.

"When it first happened, we could see the land in the distance, Julian pointed and said 'there's Caloundra, it's not far, we just have to swim that way'.

"But it was 14-15km away, the current was strong, we would never make it.

"He (Julian) was awake the whole time, his eyes were open and he was conscious, he could spit out water when I told him to, but he stopped talking and became like a wax figure.

"A lot goes through your mind in a situation like that … I remember thinking, if my son is gone, I will just let go of the bucket and give up myself.

"I wouldn't want to live without my son."

Police, SES, surf lifesavers and rescue choppers had launched a huge search and rescue mission for the men and boy.

Julian Hohnen shared his incredible story of survival on Channel 7's Sunday Night.
Julian Hohnen shared his incredible story of survival on Channel 7's Sunday Night. Sunday Night

Mr Hohnen said twice helicopters went straight over their heads, but didn't see them.

"That was disheartening, we were like a needle in a haystack," he said.

"I knew Julian was right, that we would be okay, but I also knew we didn't have much time."

Finally, as Mr Hohnen was certain their time would run out, they were found, but the fight for life was not over yet.

Mr Hohnen and Mr Jeacocke were pulled from the water into a boat, while Julian, was winched by a rescue helicopter, to get him to hospital faster.

All three were suffering hypothermia, but Julian, for a period of time, appeared lifeless.

"In the chopper they had to resuscitate him, they told us he was lifeless for three minutes," Mr Hohnen said.

Julian and his dad Maike Hohnen.
Julian and his dad Maike Hohnen. Contributed

Julian was quickly transferred from the Sunshine Coast University Hospital to the Queensland Children's Hospital in a critical condition.

He was placed in an induced coma and doctors warned his parents to prepare for the worst.

"They told us even if he wakes up, he will probably have severe brain damage, if he wakes up," he said.

"They told me he had less than a 5 per cent chance of survival.

"Because of his tiny body he suffered the most, but throughout he was the most calm and collected."

At the time Queensland Ambulance Service senior operations supervisor Kristy MacAlister said it was very lucky the three were found alive.

Julian Hohnen shared his incredible story of survival on Channel 7's Sunday Night.
Julian Hohnen shared his incredible story of survival on Channel 7's Sunday Night. Sunday Night

She told The Courier-Mail rescuing anyone with hypothermia was always a "delicate operation", particularly with a helicopter.

"As you winch them, the wind temperature can decrease the body temperature further," she said.

But at midday the next day, Julian opened his eyes.

"He asked me what he was doing here," Mr Hohnen said.

"Then he later said, 'Dad, I'm fine, I want to go fishing'."

Days later he was discharged from hospital, and planning his next fishing trip.

And that's the miracle and the attitude that has earned the young Sunshine Coast boy a Pride of Australia nomination.

The ordeal has not impacted Julian's love of fishing and he has suffered no permanent injuries.

The seven-year-old and his dad have been back on the water several times since the accident and Mr Hohnen is saving to buy another boat.

Julian himself, is a young man of few words.

Speaking to The Courier-Mail he said he didn't remember much of what happened while they were stranded at sea, but he knows he "didn't feel scared".

He said he knew "nothing would get us", and that he was excited for more fishing, and to catch "anything that bites".

For Mr Hohnen, he's just grateful to have his son, alive, well and happy.

"I'm a lucky man," he said.

The two are looking forward to many more fishing adventures over summer, hopefully in their own boat again, soon.

Now in their 15th year, the Pride of Australia awards seek to unearth and honour ordinary Australians. News Corp, publisher of The Courier-Mail is partnering with Australia Post and Seven news to stage the 2019 awards.

Nominations are open at http://prideofaustralia.com.au/ until October 21.

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