Boaters survive 28 hours, sharks

NEW ORLEANS – Two fishermen whose boat sank in the Gulf of Mexico over the weekend clung to a makeshift float and fought off sharks while the third swam what felt like miles to seek help.

The swimmer, Phong Le, managed to find a cellphone signal and sent a map of his location just before his battery ran out, he told ABC News on Tuesday. The screenshot was from Apple Maps, he told NBC News.

The three men had been in the water for around 10 a.m. on Saturday – the sharks appeared on Sunday morning, Luan Nguyen said. A little the front of his lifejacket.

“And I think that’s where I got…those hand injuries,” he told ABC, which identified the third boater as Son Nguyen.

“I took my two thumbs up and slapped him in the eye, and he left,” Luan Nguyen said.

Even as the two men emerged from the water, they were surrounded and harassed by four blacktip sharks measuring about 4 to 6 feet (1.2 to 1.8 meters) long, said Andrew Stone, a sailor of the Coast Guard boat crew who rescued the exhausted couple.

“They were too tired to even panic,” he told The Associated Press in an interview alongside other Coast Guard members and officials, none of whom referred to the boaters by name.

The three boaters were back home on Tuesday, the Coast Guard said.

“These people’s will to survive and their life jackets are what saved their lives,” said Lt. Katy Caraway, the helicopter co-pilot who rescued Le, who was suffering from hypothermia, then transported them all. the three to a hospital in New Orleans.

She said that while her helicopter was pulling up Le, the swimming man for help, an aircraft located the two who had to fight the sharks about half a mile to a mile away (0.8 to 1, 6 km). A coastguard boat based in Venice rushed to this place.

Helicopter rescue swimmer Richard Hoefle said both boaters had deep cuts to their hands and one was missing the tip of a middle finger.

At the hospital, he said, a man told him, “I was 100 per cent sure my time was up” before he saw the plane that had spotted them.

When the group’s 24-foot (7.3-meter) boat sank, it left them without a radio in an area with no cell phone service.

“We put out a distress call on the VHF radio to the Coast Guard and let them know we had taken on water,” Le told ABC. “And not even a few seconds after that, the boat was almost halfway in the water.”

They tied two coolers together like a makeshift float. One contained water and fruit, Luan Nguyen told the network.

A man’s wife reported them missing around 10 p.m. Saturday, Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Keefe, rescue coordinator for the New Orleans area. The woman did not know their launch location, he said, and it took about 3.5 hours to find their vehicle in Venice, near the southeastern tip of Louisiana, so that the crews knew the best areas to search at dawn.

Le said he swam to get help on Sunday. After swimming for what felt like miles, he received a signal on his cell phone and sent his location on the map to a friend.

“I see him trying to answer me. And the phone cut out – I ran out of battery,” Le told the network.

A boater’s wife texted it to the Coast Guard, said Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Keefe, rescue coordinator for the New Orleans area.

Coast Guard boats, planes and a helicopter had spent fruitless hours searching an area larger than Rhode Island.

Then the screenshot came.

Using the coastal contours, the command center was able to determine where it was, Keefe said.

The Coast Guard said the men were found about 25 miles off Empire, a small community along the last narrow strip of the Mississippi Delta southeast of New Orleans.

Le was rescued first. After the two shark hunters were carried into the helicopter, there were lots of hugs, Hoefle said. Until then, he said, Le “had no idea whether his friends were alive or dead.”

Once everyone was in the helicopter, the three Coast Guard crew members on the boat below were able to express their joy. “We were celebrating — screaming and screaming,” Stone said.

“I would say it was a book saver for all of us,” Caraway said.

___

This story has been updated to correct Google Map on Apple Map.

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