DAVID JAMES: His best mate Carl did his best to keep him afloat.
DAVID JAMES: His best mate Carl did his best to keep him afloat. Contributed

Mate did all to save David

BATTLING fatigue and fear of sharks, the two mates who went overboard at the mouth of the Mary River knew they only had each other to rely on as they drifted together through the black waters.

Maryborough father David James and his friend Carl had been close mates for about eight years, before setting out on a fishing expedition last Friday - a trip that took a deadly turn when David fell overboard trying to start the motor.

Carl, who did not want his surname published, jumped in and swam over to his stricken friend, pulling his hands onto his own shoulders so he could help keep him afloat.

It was only when Carl was completely exhausted himself that the two men drifted apart, calling to each other as they floated on their backs. But tragically, the men lost contact, and only one - Carl - made it to shore alive.

David's body was discovered floating in the waters off Kingfisher Bay, on Monday morning.

Carl washed up against a yacht and managed to rouse the owner by banging on the side of the vessel.

Rhiannon "RJ" Hodges, the fiancee of the man who died, described her gratitude to Carl for his selfless actions.

"Carl is a hero for what he did," Rhiannon said.

"He is absolutely devastated and keeps on blaming himself.

"But he did his best, and David would never blame him for any of it.

"I'm trying to be strong for Carl, and he's trying to be strong for me."

Rhiannon, who also uses the surname James, said David was very family-orientated and loved his four children, as well as his step-children.

After meeting a year ago, couple had a whirlwind romance and quickly decided they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together.

"Not long after we met, we got engaged," Ms Hodges said.

"He knew I was the one. He accepted my three kids as if they were his."

She said David brought every party to life, and enjoyed nothing more than being able to help his family and friends - with his big-hearted personality that left a mark on everyone he knew.

"He's all about hanging out with close friends and making good memories with people," Rhiannon said.

"He loved helping out his mates. Everyone I've spoken to says that a little part of him will go on living in us."

David was just starting to get heavily into fishing, and had only recently bought a tinny.

Rhiannon said David's friends and family had been hit hard by the tragedy, but she was grateful for the help they had received from the community, after a number people jumped into their own boats to help join the search.

"It's just really overwhelming. We want to thank everyone who has helped us, and is still helping us," she said.

"But they can't give us the one thing that we want."

As well as his fiancée and children, David is survived by his mum, dad and step-mum, two brothers on his mum's side and two sisters and a brother on his father's side.

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