Fishing buddies Tim March (left) and Jarrath Hillyer (right) went missing in December last year.
Fishing buddies Tim March (left) and Jarrath Hillyer (right) went missing in December last year.

Fishermen tragedy: Inquest to be held into disappearances

THE tragic and unusual circumstances surrounding the disappearances of fishermen Tim March and Jarrath Hillyer will be the subject of a coronial inquest next year.

Valla 'icon' Mr March, 70, and South Coast father-of-two Mr Hillyer, 37, were reported missing after they set out from the jetty boat ramp in the early hours of December 29 last year, and never returned.

The fishing buddies had left in a 4-metre tinnie carrying a manual EPIRB, bound for Sawtell Reef.

Days of extensive air and water searches failed to return a single trace of the two men - leaving their families confused and devastated.

In their search for answers, family members spoke to The Advocate and made a public appeal for help.

"It's just surreal. You don't know whether or not to grieve or whether to keep on holding onto that hope," Heidi March, daughter of Tim March, had said.

"How do you move on if you've found absolutely nothing?"

Heidi March (left), daughter of Tim March, and Simone Hillyer, wife of Jarrath Hillyer comfort each other at the jetty boat ramp in the days following their loved ones’ disappearances.
Heidi March (left), daughter of Tim March, and Simone Hillyer, wife of Jarrath Hillyer comfort each other at the jetty boat ramp in the days following their loved ones’ disappearances.

Simone Hillyer, wife of Jarrath Hillyer, explained the couple and their children were visiting her parents in Valla over the Christmas break when the men decided to go on a fishing trip.

She said Mr March was a family friend, and the two had grown close over their mutual love of fishing.

"They just wanted to go fishing and enjoy each other's company that day."

Mr March was a veteran fisherman with 37 years' experience.

Following their disappearance, Coffs-Clarence Police District Chief Inspector Peter Hayes said the surf at the time was choppy, and there was a swell of more than a metre.

He said a family member raised the alarm after the men failed to return to their car and trailer, which was left in the nearby parking lot, that evening.

He added the manual EPIRB was never activated.

Coffs Harbour Marine Rescue commander Graeme King admitted that it had been a "very unusual" case, with a 72 hour search of a 320 sqm nautical mile area failing to find anything.

Marine Rescue commander Graeme King.
Marine Rescue commander Graeme King.

He said that due to the poor conditions, one theory was that the men were thrown overboard after the waves caused their boat to flip.

"We were hopeful we might find someone hanging on a rock on an island, but it didn't happen."

A hearing into the disappearance and suspected death of Timothy March and Jarrath Hillyer has been set for June 16, 2021, before Magistrate Ian Rodgers at Coffs Harbour Coroners Court.