'Miracles do happen': Families of missing fishermen refuse to give up hope

The families and friends of the two fishermen who went missing off the Coffs Coast 10 days ago refuse to relinquish hope that their 'boys' will find their way back home.

"Miracles do happen," Jarrath Hillyer's wife, Simone, said.

"I know if he's still in that boat he's doing everything he can to get back to us."

The unofficial mayor of Valla Beach Tim 'the bream' March and his fishing mate Jarrath - up from Bombala for the Christmas holidays - set out at sunrise on Sunday, December 29.

The weather was picture perfect, and they were well-stocked for a morning of adventure with sandwiches, snacks, water, and thermos flasks for tea and coffee to keep them going.

They were off to try their luck at Tim's old fishing haunt, off the Sawtell shoal, and they planned to be back by the early afternoon; Jarrath had a date with a pool table at the Valla Beach Tavern competition at 2.30pm.

Both men are experienced on the water and well-versed on safety. They're also both resourceful types; Tim's the consummate 'Jack of all trades' and Jarrath, with a quiet and calculating intelligence, was born ready.

So while it was odd they hadn't shown up at the Tavern for the competition, Simone said it didn't ring any alarm bells.

"I wondered why I hadn't got a call but I didn't panic because he's always come home," she said.

"Graham from the Tavern was the one who called Marine Rescue."

It wasn't until they discovered Tim's car and trailer still parked at the Coffs Harbour boat ramp that worry set in.

Marine Rescue searched until 1am the next morning, with Maritime Police, Surf Lifesaving, rescue planes and helicopters all joining in.

Tim's son, Toby, and his mates all jumped on jet skis and headed out to have a look too.

The search resumed at 6am the next day, with more of the community joining in, despite the rough seas.

"They searched wider and further than their mapping predicted," Tim's daughter Heidi said.

On the afternoon of December 31, Marine Rescue was directed to scale back its operation, but the search has continued with the wider community throwing everything it can at the rescue.

"Helicopters on shark patrols are on lookout, and every boat out there skipping is keeping an eye out - all the ships have been told," Heidi said.

Diving was attempted yesterday, but water visibility was poor. The police dive squad will be deployed later this week.

They're also in the process of mapping GPS coordinates from the phone calls the pair made before they lost contact.

Heidi and Simone said they've been overwhelmed by the community's generosity - countless locals have been out searching daily, and they've received more than enough donations for search operations.

"The boys out searching refuse to take any money, and the private plane company we hired donated their time - we just paid for fuel," she said.

It's been amazing how many people have come forward with planes and helicopters to help.

Heidi and Simone firmly believe the swell of support is in direct proportion to how well-loved Tim is in the community.

"He's been an icon of the Valley at stages in his life," Heidi said. "And he knows everyone - he's the first one to shake your hand."

The Bombala community, despite suffering through the South Coast bushfires, has also been sending their love, money and support, and looking after the Hillyers' farm for them.

"They're grieving, and they all want to be here. But we're mountain people, not coastal, and the best they could do would be to walk the beaches. But they've been in contact every day," Simone said.

While Simone and Heidi are grateful for the love and support, what is needed now more than anything else - except for some favourable weather conditions - is information.

"We need anything that was seen that day to piece together the last few clues," Simone said.

She said there have been reports that a seven-metre boat was in the area that day, but they have been unable to locate the owner.

"It's currently not compulsory to log your trips, but it should be. If it was, we could contact each person on the water that day," Simone said.

"Someone out there has got to know something to help with the timeframe. We would be eternally grateful if they could let the police know what they saw. Because right now, it's like looking for a needle in a haystack."

Despite the intensive search efforts, they've yet to find even a trace of flotsam.

"There's been nothing - how can there not be something show up?" Heidi said.

They strongly believe the pair was wearing lifejackets, and there was an EPIRB on board - one of the older versions you need to pull to activate.

"Whatever happened to them out there, they didn't get a chance to pull it," Heidi said.

"You always think your parents are invincible. If there's one thing I've gotten out of this, it's to not take them for granted - because you never know when the last time you see them will be."

Jarrath's sister Krista said it's torture to watch her family suffer through this.

"It's been going through my mind 24 hours a day since I got the call from Mum. My heart's breaking to see Simone and my parents and everyone go through this. We just need an answer, even for closure."

If they are still alive, she knows that her brother would be taking a logical approach to the situation, after all he was the sort of disciplined kid who could ration his Easter eggs.

"And I know that wherever they are, they're together. Tim wouldn't leave Jarrath, and Jarrath would never leave Tim," Simone said.

They're asking everyone to familiarise themselves with the known items on board that day.

And they have a message for anyone else heading out on the water: "Upgrade your equipment, always phone in, be prepared for all conditions, and don't be complacent."

The search for the men has been extended to encompass the coastline south to Port Macquarie and Forster.

If you saw Tim and Jarrath or their tinny out on the water that day, or find any of the above items washed up while walking along the beach, please contact Crime Stoppers: 1800 333 000 or https://nsw.crimestoppers.com.au. Information is treated in strict confidence.

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