WA Teen’s Amazing Survival Story

Steven Saylor
  • Article by Amy Bradney-George
  • June 03, 2015 at 9:52 AM

When Steven Saylor went free diving with his sister and friends on Monday 1st June, he just expected to enjoy some spearfishing on the Pilbara coast near his hometown of Wickham.

But strong currents changed that when they caught hold of him in the early afternoon. What came next was a 16-hour ordeal the 19-year-old is unlikely to ever forget.

At first Saylor thought the current “was a joke”, he told reporters after being rescued. He says that the boat was only 50 metres away, but then “it just got real, everything changed and I panicked and screamed.”

Saylor fought to keep his head above water and get back to his friends, or to land, calling out to his friends when he could see them searching for him. He says at one point they were 30 metres away before a wave dragged him under and carried him 500 metres from them.

“I didn’t want to die, I just wanted to get to land, so I just put my head down and kept swimming,” he says.

Around two hours into the ordeal, his thoughts drifted to other threats, including the fear of getting eaten – which turned out to be a very real danger at the time.

“I put my head under water and there was a shark right there, just underneath the water. I looked down and there it was beside me,” he says in an interview with The Australian.

“It was bigger than me — if it was smaller than me I wouldn’t have been scared of it. Because it was a lot bigger than me, it was freaky and I didn’t want to look at it. It made me freak out more and just worry. It just looked at me and disappeared.”

When darkness fell, Saylor used the lights from the Rio Tinto Cape Lambert iron ore port to guide him to shore.

“It was dark when I hit land, but I was just looking up at the Rio Tinto wharf and I knew where Delambre (Island) was from there, so I just swam in that direction and found it which was pretty lucky,” he says in an interview with ABC Radio.

The island is about 20km off the coast of Wickham, so Saylor was familiar with it and his location but knew it could be a while before people found him. So he dug a hole in the sand on the beach and did “anything to keep warm” through the night.

A search rescue team spotted him early on Tuesday morning as he called out and waved his wetsuit to get their attention. He was taken to Karratha’s Nickol Bay Hospital for treatment and released later that day.

All up, Saylor says he was swimming for six or seven hours, with the whole ordeal lasting 16 hours.

Search rescuers have praised his actions and his family and friends are relieved he’s survived the ordeal, while the public are captivated by such a remarkable story of resilience against currents, cold and a massive tiger shark.

Images: Steven Saylor and a friend, source: The Australian on Twitter; a map of Delambre Island with Wickham to the southeast via Google Maps.

Delambre Island
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