FAREWELL: Airlie Beach local Joseph Engwirda passed away on July 25, 2018.
FAREWELL: Airlie Beach local Joseph Engwirda passed away on July 25, 2018. Andrea Engwirda

Gentleman with a heart of gold

HE WAS called the "angel in the black diving suit”, but to Airlie Beach locals the humble man next door was simply Joseph (Joe) Engwirda, a hard-working man with a heart of gold.

Joe was born on August 4, 1933 and passed away on July 25, 2018 at the age of 84.

He is survived by his wife, Bettina Engwirda, 81, children Andrea Engwirda, James Engwirda and Robert Engwirda, daughter-in-law Shelley Engwirda, and grandchildren Reece Engwirda, Evette Engwirda and Elouise Engwirda.

Joe and Bettina were married for 58 years and Andrea said they shared an "absolute love” for each other.

Joe immigrated to Australia from the Netherlands in 1951 where he began his own business as a commercial diver and marine salvager in Brisbane.

Most notably, he was involved in a frantic search and rescue operation as a professional diver when the Danish dredge, the Kaptajn Nielsen, capsized in Moreton Bay on September 18, 1964.

Joe was awarded the George Medal for outstanding bravery after entering the upturned hull of the 3000-tonne dredge repeatedly to recover 12 seamen and nine bodies.

Joseph Engwirda pictured with the barnacle-covered helm of the Katajn Nielson.
Joseph Engwirda pictured with the barnacle-covered helm of the Katajn Nielson. CONTRIBUTED

He was also involved in a number of major rescue and clean-up missions, pumping crude oil on several occasions to avoid environmental pollution.

These included Queensland's largest oil spill, when the Oceanic Grandeur was grounded in the Torres Strait in 1970 and when Lake Illawarra hit the Tasman bridge in Hobart in 1975, causing the loss of 12 lives.

His crucial involvement in a range of large-scale incidents earned Joe a documentary on ABC titled The Man with 10 Eyes.

Joe built a house in Airlie Beach in 1982 where he lived for more than three decades.

Andrea described her father as a "self-made man”.

True to that description, Joe once said: "I had an uncle in Amsterdam who told me once that a man who can pick his hobby as his livelihood is the happiest man in the world.

"That's what I've done. I couldn't be happier.”

A funeral service for Joe will be held at the VMR clubhouse on Monday, August 6 at 2pm for anyone who knew him or would like to pay respects.

Contact Andrea Engwirda on 0404 841 160 to confirm a seat.