Apparition haunts grieving dad
The image has been haunting Barry Carter ever since he saw it four weeks ago.
Sleep deprived and desperate after searching for days through rugged terrain in the Pilbara to find any signs of his missing son Mason, it came to him like an apparition.
“I lay down and as soon as I shut my eyes ... he came to me right in my face, right in the centre of my face,” Mr Carter said.
“And I knew what he was going to say.
“I was just looking at him and he went, ‘Dad, you’re going to have to let me go’.”
It has been almost two months since the prawn trawler Mason was aboard sank off the Pilbara, and the anguish of the loss is etched deep into his face.
A beloved son to Mr Carter and his former wife Brigitte, Mason was also the inspirational oldest brother to four siblings — Codie, Liam, Jesse and Charlotte.
With so many questions about his disappearance unanswered, Mr and Mrs Carter this week spoke from Kalbarri about their torment and the extraordinary lengths to which the family has gone to find him.
From jetskis, helicopters and boats to four-wheel-driving across jagged rocks and crawling through mangroves, they have pushed the limits of their endurance “to find something, even a pair of boardies”.
But as weeks without a trace turn into months, the hopes of finding him fade.
“We probably knew that we weren’t going to find anything, but deep down there was a part of us that didn’t want to leave him there alone,” Mr Carter said.
That Mr and Mrs Carter went to such lengths to look for their son rests as much on their faith in his ability to survive as it does on their love for him.
At 26, Mason was a noted bigwave surfer and an “exemplary” boat operator part-way through advanced nautical training.
He was also, as his parents noted, a skilled bushman at the peak of his considerable physical powers.
“It wasn’t unthinkable,” Mrs Carter says.
After setting off in early July on a 10-day trip from Point Samson, north-east of Karratha, the boat Mason was aboard with his childhood friend Chad Fairley and skipper Murray Turner never returned.
In a bitter irony, the trawler was called Returner.
Although a search would later find the wreckage of the vessel at the bottom of Nickol Bay near Karratha, with the body of Mr Turner inside, Mr Fairley, 30, and Mason are missing, presumed dead.
A transponder used by the Fisheries Department to track the movements of commercial vessels sent its last signal days before a search was launched.
Mrs Carter said her greatest agony was the thought her son may have survived the capsizing, but it was days before the family were notified.
“I think the tormenting part as a mother — for all of us really — is the knowledge that for those first few days we could have helped if we’d known,” she says.
As authorities prepare to refloat Returner, Mr Carter said that short of Mason walking through the door, “I don’t want closure”.
But Mrs Carter said there was always hope. Neither is willing to let go. “If you set out to design a son before you had him, Mason is what you’d end up with,” Mr Carter says.
A memorial was held for Mason and Mr Fairley on Saturday in Geraldton.