A former Utahn who has been missing off the coast of Australia since Nov. 6 loved to sail the open seas, said his mother.

"If Rex had a choice of a way to die, I'm sure he would have preferred the sea," said Faye Higginson, Salt Lake City.Rex F. Higginson, 48, a former Granite High School student and a University of Utah graduate, was lost at sea while sailing his 35-foot trimaran, "Warp Factor," from Bundaberg, Queensland, Australia, to New Guinea. He is presumed dead.

Higginson's wife, Judy, and two children live in Surfers Paradise, Queensland. A sister, Janice Penney, lives in West Valley City.

Higginson served in the Air Force between studies at the U., where he earned a bachelor's degree in biology and zoology. He worked at Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City, at a Colorado Springs, Colo., zoo and taught in a school in Hawaii for delinquent youths before moving to Australia about 1970. He taught science and math in Australia.

Higginson said her son had some free time and had always wanted to see New Guinea, so he decided to sail Nov. 4 for the island, located north of Australia in the East Indies.

"He called Judy to tell her that he was getting under way on the trip, would be in New Guinea in 10 days and would call her from there. When he didn't call, she reported him missing on Nov. 15 to the Sea Safety, Search and Rescue of Australia," she said.

Searchers sighted and took aerial photographs of the craft's hull that same day. There was no sign of life aboard the craft, which was spotted about 100 miles off the coast of Mackay, Queensland. The hull had disappeared by the time the search crews returned.

"Rex really liked to sail the open seas and had just recently returned with his son and his friend from an excursion along the coral reef of Australia. We will never know how it happened or just when, but they say the coastal waters can be pretty rough," Higginson said.