Last picture of adventurer who disappeared trying to achieve kayaking feat no one had ever managed
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Featured Image Credit: Andrew McAuley/Fairfax Media via Getty Images
In 2007, an Australian adventurer embarked on his toughest feat yet - to kayak across the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand. But the trip would take a devastating turn just one month in when he issued a sudden distress call.
Kayaker and mountaineer Andrew McAuley had cemented a reputation for himself as a thrill seeker and fearless adventurist, having taken part in increasingly dangerous sports challenges throughout his life.
In 2003, McAuley became the first person to kayak the notoriously treacherous Bass Strait - completing the 136-mile challenge in 25 hours, as well as embarking on a staggering 330-mile trip across the Gulf of Carpentaria.
Writing about his love for extreme challenges, the 38-year-old said: “I’ve all the time been drawn to challenges on the sharp finish of what’s attainable, initially with climbing and mountaineering, and extra just lately with sea kayaking."
He was so acclaimed in his field that he even bagged himself the Adventurer of the Year award in 2005.
But two years later, McAuley announced his most ambitious and dangerous trip yet - a trip so difficult, several had tried and failed.
This time, the adventurer wanted to cross the dangerous Tasman Sea in his kayak.
It had been a whopping 10 years in the making, given McAuley's impressive track record for successfully completing the unthinkable.
His first attempt came in December 2006, but it was scrapped just one day in after freezing weather conditions caused him to develop hypothermia.
Undeterred, he tried again on January 11, 2007 - this time with a properly insulated Mirage kayak which could be slept in.
All was going well, with McAuley regularly giving updates on the progress of his trip - though it became clear even he wasn't blind to the dangers of what he was embarking on.
In one video early on in the journey, he could be heard saying it's 'an excellent, excellent, excellent adventure… provided I make it'.
At one point, he seemed to question whether he'd taken it too far, admitting: "It’s more full-on than anything I could imagine. It’s a true, true, stunning, stunning adventure. I just hope I haven’t bitten off more than I can chew, because there’s a few little things going wrong, but I mean, I still feel pretty good… hopefully I’ll get there very soon because right now I just want it to be over with.
"When I get older, I’ll look back and I’ll be stoked. I’ll be stoked, stoked, stoked that I did it but… it’s hard. It’s hard going."
However, a month into the trip, things took a terrifying turn when he hit a storm off the coast of New Zealand.
In some of his last known messages, on February 8 McAuley texted his wife Vicki, who was planning a welcome home party.
"See you 9 a.m. Sunday!," he wrote.
Just one day later, he issued a sudden distress call to the New Zealand Coast Guard.
It was initially thought he had got in touch to check in on his progress, but the Coast Guard later said it had heard the words 'help' and 'sinking' in the call.
On February 10, a search party was sent out to try and find McAuley. Sadly that evening they found both his gear and kayak in shockingly near-perfect condition, but there was still no sign of him.
His camera memory card was also recovered, revealing the unsettling final image of the adventurer.
Two days later, the search was called off.
Many have speculated on what could have happened to the kayaker, with some suggesting he was hit by a rogue wave.
Paul Hewitson, the maker of McAuley’s kayak, offered his own theory on the tragic events, believing he could have capsized while the cockpit covered wasn't up, and due to the weight of all the gear in the vessel, he was then unable to turn it back over.
To this day, McAuley is still missing and presumed dead, and a memorial service was held by his friends and family on February 26, 2007, to commemorate his life.
His chilling last words on camera were: "I may have bitten off more than I can chew."