The U.S. Coast Guard’s 8th District Heartland unit hauled three stranded fishermen out of the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday, Oct. 9 after a family member alerted USCG New Orleans watchstanders that the group hadn’t returned home the night prior. The men had been floating in the ocean for 28 hours after their 24-foot boat sank on Saturday, Oct. 8 around 10 a.m. When a USCG response boat arrived to the scene, crewmembers “witnessed two of the boaters fending off sharks,” a press release from USCG 8th District Heartland says.
The two boaters fighting the sharks suffered severe lacerations to their hands and one of the three boaters was also showing signs of hypothermia, although it is unclear if the boater with hypothermia was one of the men battling sharks. The two boaters were pulled from their precarious situation before it was too late. All three three boaters were flown to University Medical Center in New Orleans and are now reportedly in stable condition.
An aircrew first located the stranded men after searching a chunk of the Gulf “roughly the size of Rhode Island,” Lieutenant Commander Kevin Keefe, a Sector New Orleans Search and Rescue Mission Coordinator, says.
“If the family member had not notified the Coast Guard, and if these three boaters were not wearing life jackets, this could’ve been a completely different outcome,” Keefe says. “We appreciate the assistance of the boating public, who were instrumental in helping identify possible areas where these boaters could have been operating before the vessel became in distress.”
The men were found about 25 miles off the coast of Empire, Louisiana, an unincorporated community in the southeastern part of the state where the Mississippi River channels toward the Gulf. One of the three had floated almost a half-mile away from the other two, who were clinging to a cooler, NBC TODAY reports.
“They just happened to be floating around and…his cell phone got cell phone service,” Keefe told TODAY. The boater sent a screenshot of his location on Google Maps. Using rough geographic features, the rescue team was able to hone in on their exact location.
“It’s difficult for us to describe how lucky they were that all these things happened in their favor,” Keefe says.