Anthony “Johnny” Mahoney pictured with  Lionel Ansselin and Laurie Miller
Anthony “Johnny” Mahoney pictured with Lionel Ansselin and Laurie Miller

Miracle at sea as yachtsman survives ocean tragedy

A CAIRNS family is rushing to the side of a 68-year-old sailor who has miraculously survived a boating tragedy which claimed the life of a sailing mate in the Philippines.

Townsville's Anthony "Johnny" Mahoney has died after clinging to a dinghy for four days in wild seas off the coast of the Philippines.

Mr Mahoney, 73, was with mates Laurie Miller of Cairns and Lionel Ansselin to deliver a luxury yacht from North Queensland to its new home when the trio were hit by storms and abandoned ship last Thursday.

The men, all accomplished sailors, activated an emergency beacon before deserting the 18m Katerina, once owned by legendary US television broadcaster Walter Cronkite which counted Bill and Hillary Clinton as former guests.

Two more EPIRB signals were activated last Friday as the three men battled huge seas and scorching sun.

When they were finally rescued by a Filipino fishing boat yesterday morning, it was too late for Mr Mahoney.

Mr Miller's partner and son were last night both trying to make their way to the Philippines to be with him.

Mr Miller's daughter Kristy Cruise said it was a miracle he was still alive.

"My brother spoke to him and he said they were smashed by terrible storms and every night the boat overturned and they were clinging on for dear life and the next day they would get back on and do it all again," she said.

"It's a miracle he's alive.

"He was probably within 24 hours of not making it."

Mr Mahoney's stepdaughter Shannon Grasso last night told of her shock at losing "a beautiful man" who would now rejoin his wife Shelley, who was killed in a freak sailing accident in Malaysia.

She said he was an entertainer at Townsville's casino and had a loyal fan following.

"We can't believe this, especially after what happened to Mum," she said.

"We're still in shock."

Ms Grasso said the family was still seeking details as the two survivors stay in intensive care at a Filippino hospital.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority received an alert beacon from the vessel last Thursday and two more EPIRB signals on Friday, about 165 nautical miles from the Filipino port of Davao City.

The boat refuelled in Davao and was bound for Subic, some three days' sailing away.

In a statement, a spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs said the agency was helping the families.

The Katerina, known as the Wyntje when it was owned by the late Mr Cronkite, has travelled around the globe, making regular passages of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

It is believed the yacht's latest owner is an Australian national living in the Filipino province of La Union.

It was reportedly found deserted in near-perfect condition by Filipino authorities.

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