Thursday 26 April 2018

Women rescued after five months adrift at sea

Jennifer Appel is welcomed aboard USS Ashland by Command Master Chief Gary Wise (Jonathan Clay/US Navy/AP)
Jennifer Appel is welcomed aboard USS Ashland by Command Master Chief Gary Wise (Jonathan Clay/US Navy/AP)

Two sailors and their dogs have been rescued by the US Navy after more than five months lost at sea in the vast Pacific Ocean.

The planned voyage from Hawaii to Tahiti aboard a small yacht did not start well for the two women, from Honolulu - one of their mobile phones washed overboard and sank on their first day at sea.

From there, things got worse. About a month into the trip, bad weather caused their engine to lose power, then their mast was damaged, and, as they drifted across thousands of miles of open ocean, the water purifier stopped working.

But the two sailors, accompanied by their faithful pets, were resourceful and prepared with more than a year's worth of food.

They sent out daily distress calls that no one heard, until they were rescued by the US Navy on Wednesday about 900 miles south east of Japan, thousands of miles off course.

The USS Ashland rescued the women after a Taiwanese fishing boat spotted their crippled yacht on Tuesday and alerted the US Coast Guard, the Navy said in a statement.

The women, identified by the Navy as Jennifer Appel and Tasha Fuiava, lost their engine in bad weather in late May but believed they could still reach Tahiti using their sails.

"They saved our lives," said Ms Appel through the Navy release. "The pride and smiles we had when we saw (US Navy) on the horizon was pure relief."

In a phone call with news media from the Ashland, she said they had sent a distress signal for 98 days with no response.

"It was very depressing and very hopeless, but it's the only thing you can do, so you do what you can do," she said.

A group of sharks attacked their boat one night, and a single shark returned a day later, she said.

"We actually thought it was lights out, and they were horrific," Ms Appel said. "We were just incredibly lucky that our hull was strong enough to withstand the onslaught."

Asked if they ever thought they might not survive, she said they would not be human if they did not. She credited the two dogs, which she called their companion animals, with keeping their spirits up.

"There is a true humility to wondering if today is your last day, if tonight is your last night," she said.

Her mother said she never gave up hope that her daughter would be found.

Joyce Appel, 75, who lives in Houston, said she got a call from her daughter early on Thursday, more than five months after they had last spoke.

"She said, 'Mom?', and I said, 'Jennifer!?', because I hadn't heard from her in, like, five months," she said. "And she said, 'yes mom', and that was really exciting."

Two months into their trip, well after they were scheduled to arrive in Tahiti, the women began making distress calls, but there were no vessels close and they were too far out to sea for the signals to be detected on land.

They told the Navy they survived because they had a water purifier and enough food for a year, mostly dried goods like oatmeal and pasta.

A photo provided by the Navy shows Ms Fuiava smiling as a Navy sailor greets her dog, Zeus aboard the USS Ashland.

The women received a medical assessment, food and beds aboard the Navy ship, where they will remain until the next port of call.

"The US Navy is postured to assist any distressed mariner of any nationality during any type of situation," said Commander. Steven Wasson, commanding officer of the USS Ashland.

AP

Press Association

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