An offshore fishing trip nearly turned deadly for three fishermen — which is why they can’t thank their rescuers enough.
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Phong Le, Luan Nguyen, and Son Nguyen set out on a fishing expedition from Empire, Louisiana on the morning of October 8th. Just hours later, large waves hitting their boat, which was tied up to an oil rig, caused the boat to take on water. With just moments to spare, the three men put on life vests and tied together two ice chests to serve as a raft.
The men tried to swim their raft towards one of the oil rigs nearby, but the waves were too strong. As night fell, they realized the would have to find a way to survive the plummeting temperatures and 15-foot swells. Phong still clung to his cell phone in its waterproof case, but there was no signal and the battery was dangerously low. They spent the night with their life vests tied together so they wouldn’t drift apart, praying for rescue.
“That was a pretty scary thing,” Luan recalled. “Good thing there was a full moon out so we had light, but we couldn’t see. We could barely see anything. So we just drifted at night.”
At times they tried to flag down planes flying overhead and boats passing in the distance, but no one ever spotted them.
The next day, Phong set out to swim to a shrimp boat in the distance. He made it 4 or 5 miles before passing out from exhaustion. When he recovered, he turned on his phone, and by some miracle, he caught a signal. Texts from worried friends and family poured in. Phong selected the most recent message and sent a frantic text to a friend.
Phong was able to send a screen shot of his Apple location, and his friend forwarded it on to the Coast Guard, who were already searching for them. With no coordinates, authorities had to use orienteering and other special skills to find them… and it worked!
Within an hour, a Coast Guard ship and helicopter spotted Phong in the water.
The men were located about 25 miles off the coast. Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Keefe coordinated the effort in the command center while Lt. Katy Caraway co-piloted the helicopter that lifted all three men to safety. Coast Guard Seaman Andrew Stone was the first to pull Son and Luan onto the boat before sending them up to the helicopter.
The men were dehydrated, sunburned, and showing signs of hypothermia, but they were incredibly grateful to be alive! Over the course of their terrifying 28 hours at sea, they endured countless jellyfish bites and even fended off shark attacks.
“The shark hit the life vest, and I tried to push him off,” Luan said. “He wouldn’t go away so I jabbed him in his eyes. […] Put my thumbs in his eyes, and he took off. I got a couple scars, but you know….”
All three men were taken to the hospital. While Son is still on the road to recovery, Luan and Phong were able to leave a few days later to appear live on TODAY to describe their ordeal. To their surprise, all three of their heroic Coast Guard rescuers came out so they could share an emotional reunion.
This rescue is just one of many performed by members of the Coast Guard every day. Seaman Andrew Stone says seeing the men’s grateful faces makes all of the dangers of their job worth it.
“It’s one reason why I joined the Coast Guard,” he said. “I love this branch because we’re able to do stuff like that. I can be able to see him alive and recovering, it’s awesome.”
Now that was a close call! We can only imagine how terrifying it was to be adrift at sea. The only comfort is knowing there are such brave, resourceful people willing to risk their lives to save ours.
Take another look at the daring rescue in the video below, and don’t forget to share to thank these daily heroes!
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