Three teenage British backpackers were saved when their Scooby-Doo-style caravan became submerged in rapidly rising crocodile-infested floodwaters in Australia.
Former Eton College schoolboys Ed Talbot, 19, Tom White and Tom Vare, both 18, awoke to discover their brightly coloured “Mystery Machine”, parked just metres from a sign warning about saltwater crocodiles, had become stranded in floodwaters overnight.
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The trio, who are currently on a gap year, were forced to clamber on to the roof of their vehicle as they awaited rescue in the northern state of Queensland.
Mr Talbot, from Hampshire, told the Evening Standard the group were “in a bit of shock and panic” when they found themselves surrounded by floodwater.
“There was a fair amount of water in the van. We were pretty much swimming,” he recalled. “We started bailing out water and then decided to stay in the van as there was a sign right next to the van that said ‘caution, danger of crocodiles’.
“We were told afterwards a four-and-a-half metre croc lives in the area.”
Mr White, who called the incident “quite an experience”, had considered attempting to swim to safety but was outvoted by his friends.
Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES) said the group were “extremely grateful” after being rescued. They added the floodwaters rose “quite a number of inches” during the operation at 6am yesterday local time (7pm GMT Monday).
“During the night and the course of the evening they noticed water entering the campervan and there was a croc sign quite close by,” said QFES officer Guy Bulmer.
“The signs are not there for general information. It’s quite specific, there are crocodiles there.
“They went to the roof of the van and it’s not until they were seen this morning that someone saw them there – they had no shirts on either.”
The group pitched up at the riverside campsite in the sugar-growing town of Gordonvale, located about 15 miles south of Cairns, shortly after other campers had already packed up on advice from a local about the potential risk of floodwaters.
Mr Bulmer added: “After we got them back to dry land they were certainly grateful.
“They had a cold and wet night. They got warmed up and it was happy days because no-one got hurt.
“It can happen to anyone, and tourists don’t have the local knowledge.”
Rescue crews took around 45 minutes to retrieve the stranded trio, who were cut off by around 100 metres of water, after deploying an inflatable dinghy.
“We had people on watch assisted by the police in case any crocs did turn up,” Mr Bulmer said.
“They look like logs so they are hard to spot, but they are quite shy and we were making a lot of noise.
“I wouldn’t have been surprised if they were around though.
“You’ve also got debris in the water, it’s extremely dirty, so there is plenty of potential for injury and death.”
Australia’s deadliest creatures
The powerful reptiles, who have a reputation as one of Australia’s most dangerous animals, are found in the northern state’s waterways and can grow up to 7 metres in length.
A number of high profile crocodile attacks over the past 12 months in the region has led to controversial calls for a cull.
In November, a 24-year-old British tourist captured the moment she was bitten by a five-foot crocodile in the north-east state on film.
Last October, a 79-year-old dementia sufferer was feared to have been killed by a crocodile in the state after going missing from her care home.