Trawler skipper saves ET's life

How the crew of trawler Dianne saved footy legend's life

A DOCUMENTARY filmed on ill-fated fishing vessel Dianne shows the dramatic moment the crew saved the life of rugby league superstar Andrew "ET" Ettingshausen.

The footage has taken on a new poignancy, revealing life on board the "slug boat" before it capsized in rough seas off the central Queensland coast last month, claiming six lives.

Watch the footage in the video player above.

Ettingshausen - who played 328 first grade games for Cronulla in a glittering career - was filmed on the boat as part of his documentary series Saltwater Heroes, which aired on the Discovery Channel in 2015.

While being recorded collecting sea cucumbers from the seabed 30 metres underwater, ET had a moment of sheer panic and pulled his mask from his face.

He had to be rescued by his dive buddy, Dianne's skipper Ben Leahy, and other crew who supplied him with pure oxygen and calmly and slowly brought him to the surface.

Ettingshausen described the ordeal as the "longest 15 minutes" in his life, praising the professionalism of Dianne's crew.

The footage has not been publicly available since Dianne sank, but can be revealed now after being obtained by The Courier-Mail.

"When I came out to this operation I knew I was going to meet a bunch of blokes with a tough job," Ettingshausen says in the documentary.

"I just never knew my life would depend on these guys being true saltwater heroes."

Ettingshausen with Ruben McDornan on the Dianne.
Ettingshausen with Ruben McDornan on the Dianne.

Police divers recovered the bodies of Mr Leahy and Adam Hoffman from the wreckage of the sunken vessel.

Four men - Adam Bidner, Zachary Feeney, Chris Sammut and Eli Tonks - have not been found.

Ruben McDornan, the sole survivor from the tragedy, features heavily in the footage, at one point showing ET how he fends off sharks with his bare fists.

Filming took place off the coast of Lizard Island, 240km north of Cairns on the Great Barrier Reef.

ET donned a special wet suit to protect himself from box jellyfish and joined Mr Leahy in harvesting sea cucumbers - also known as slugs - from the seabed.

He notes that he has 10 years of dive experience but is "considered a novice on this boat".

Slug boat Dianne as pictured in the Andrew Ettingshausen documentary.
Slug boat Dianne as pictured in the Andrew Ettingshausen documentary.

The process involved the men being pumped air through hoses while they were dragged behind the moving boat.

"What I don't realise is I'm about to face a life or death situation," ET says in the documentary.

"Things start going horribly wrong. While adjusting the suit I've knocked my mouth piece which is now letting in water.

"I'm breathing half water, half air. Ben triggers his alarm system to alert the crew above."

On Dianne, an alarm blares and the crew scramble to join the rescue.

"In the panic I feel taking off my head piece will help. But it makes matters worse. My mask comes off," ET says.

"There's now water in my lungs and I'm 30m deep.

"Instinctively I just want to get to the surface where I can breathe properly. Ben knows I'll fill my blood with nitrogen if I rush to the top. So he takes me to 9m and puts me on pure oxygen.

"After the longest 15 minutes in my life I'm allowed to go to the surface."

The experience left him "feeling sick but thankful I'm in good hands".

"There can be little doubt about the dangers these boys face, but Ben's experience and the crew's training stopped a bad situation getting worse."

Andrew Ettingshausen on board the Dianne with skipper Ben Leahy and Ruben McDornan.
Andrew Ettingshausen on board the Dianne with skipper Ben Leahy and Ruben McDornan.