Fishermen fight sharks and survive 28 hours in Gulf of Mexico after boat sank

NEW ORLEANS (AP) – Two anglers whose boat sank in the Gulf of Mexico over the weekend clung to an improvised swimmer and fended off sharks while the third swam for miles to search for help.

Swimmer Phong Le managed to find a cellphone signal and sent a Google map of his location just before his battery died, he told ABC News on Tuesday.

The three men had been in the water since around 10 a.m. Saturday – the sharks surfaced Sunday morning, Luan Nguyen said. One bit the front of his life jacket.

“And I think that’s where I got these injuries on my hand,” he told the broadcaster, who identified the third boater as Son Nguyen.

“I took my two thumbs and poked his eyes and he flew away,” said Luan Nguyen.

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Even as the two men were pulled out of the water, four blacktip sharks, about 4 to 6 feet (1.2 to 1.8 meters) long, circled and harassed them, said Andrew Stone, a seaman with the Coast Guard Boat Crew, who had rescued her exhausted couple.

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

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

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

She said while her helicopter was pulling up Le, the man who was swimming for help, a plane located the two fighting sharks about 0.5 to 1 mile away. A Coast Guard boat based in Venice rushed to the spot.

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

At the hospital, a man told him, “I was 100% sure my time was up,” before seeing the plane, which spotted them.

When the group’s 25-foot (7.3-meter) boat sank, they were left without radio in an area without cellphone coverage.

“We made an emergency call to the Coast Guard on the VHF radio and told them we had taken water,” Le told ABC. “And not even seconds later, the boat was almost halfway in the water.”

They tied two ice chests together as a makeshift float. One happened to contain water and fruit, Luan Nguyen told the network.

A man’s wife reported her missing around 10 p.m. Saturday, Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Keefe, rescue coordinator for the New Orleans sector. The woman didn’t know her starting point, he said, and it took her about 3.5 hours to locate her vehicle in Venice near the southeastern tip of Louisiana so crews would know the best areas to search at dawn.

Le said he swam to get help on Sunday. After swimming what felt like miles, he received a signal on his cell phone and texted his location on Google maps to a friend.

“I see him trying to answer me. And the phone was disconnected — I had run out of battery,” Le told the network.

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

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

Then came the screenshot.

Coastal contours allowed the command center to figure out where she was, Keefe said.

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

Le was rescued first. After the two shark fighters were lifted into the helicopter, there were many hugs, said Höfle. By then, he said, Le had “no idea if his friends were alive or dead.”

Once seated in the helicopter, the three Coast Guard crew members on the boat below were able to express their joy. “We celebrated — cheering and roaring,” Stone said.

“I would say that was a lifesaver for the books for all of us,” said Kümmel. Fishermen fight sharks and survive 28 hours in Gulf of Mexico after boat sank

Grace Reader

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