Two American women and their dogs have been rescued after spending nearly 5 months stranded on the Pacific Ocean surrounded by sharks. Jennifer Appel and Tasha Fuiava set off for Tahiti on May 3rd, but suffered engine failure and even a broken mast. To make matters worse, their phone fell overboard on the first day.
The two women, both from Honolulu, Hawaii, were finally spotted on Tuesday by a Taiwanese fishing vessel roughly 900 miles southeast of Japan. The USS Ashland, a 610-foot Navy ship, set out to find them and arrived by 10:30am on Wednesday morning.
“I’m grateful for their service to our country. They saved our lives,” Appel said in a statement released by the Navy. “The pride and smiles we had when we saw [U.S. Navy] on the horizon was pure relief.”
How did the two women and their dogs survive for so long without access to fresh water? They had water purifiers and a year’s supply of dry food, including pasta, rice, and oatmeal.
Trouble started brewing for the women on May 30th, less than a month after first taking off from Hawaii. They hit a patch of bad weather but continued on anyway. They spent five months waiting for help, sending out distress calls that nobody could hear.
“It was very depressing, and it was very hopeless,” Appel said on a phone call with the media that was organized by the US Navy. “The only thing you can do, you use what you can and what you have. You have no other choice.”
Aside from food, their biggest concern was sharks. The boat was constantly surrounded.
“We were slowly maneuvering through their living room. They came by to slap their tails and tell us we needed to move along,” Appel said on the recent phone call. “They decided to use our vessel to teach their children how to hunt. They attacked at night.”
The Taiwanese fishing boat that stumbled upon the women alerted the US Coast Guard in Guam who then determined that the USS Ashland was in the best position to assist quickly.
The two women were brought aboard the USS Ashland and received medical assistance. They will stay aboard the ship until the Ashland’s next scheduled port of call.
“The US Navy is postured to assist any distressed mariner of any nationality during any type of situation,” Cmdr. Steven Wasson, Ashland commanding officer, said in a statement.
Update, November 2nd, 7:15am: Some experts have since cast doubt on details from the story told by the two women. You can read more about those doubts here.