Sailors lost at sea for 5 months didn’t activate emergency beacon, Coast Guard says

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Two Hawaiian mariners who say they were stranded at sea for five months had an emergency beacon aboard their sailboat that was never activated, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

Jennifer Appel and Natasha “Tasha” Fuiava, who said they left Honolulu on May 3 aboard aboard a 50-foot sailboat, told Coast Guard officials that they never turned on the boat’s Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) because they never felt “truly in distress,” nor did they think the situation was “dire” enough to warrant it, a spokesperson for Coast Guard District 14 confirmed to ABC News on Monday.

The EPIRB — which the Coast Guard confirmed was properly registered — would have immediately notified search and rescue teams of a vessel in distress, officials said.

The Associated Press
Jennifer Appel, Tasha Fuiava

Appel and Natasha Fuiava told reporters over the weekend that they feared they had less than 24 hours to live when they were rescued in the Pacific Ocean nearly 900 miles southeast of Japan.

But some people said they have questions about their story.

Linus Wilson, a boating expert and author of three sailing books, told ABC News that he wondered if the women had fabricated some of their claims.

“Several of Ms. Appel’s statements about her voyage do not check out and don’t ring true to many experienced sailors,” he said in an e-mailed statement on Monday. “I think a reasonable person may start out thinking that Ms. Appel was just a foolish skipper, but it seems likely many events that she recounts may have been fabricated to sensationalize the story.”

“It would be a shame if someone used a very expensive U.S. Navy rescue as a publicity stunt,” he added.

USS Ashland, carrying two women who were rescued after months at sea on their storm-damaged sailboat, arrives at White Beach Naval Facility in Okinawa, Japan Monday, Oct. 30, 2017. The U.S. Navy ship arrived at the American Navy base, five days afterThe Associated Press
USS Ashland, carrying two women who were rescued after months at sea on their storm-damaged sailboat, arrives at White Beach Naval Facility in Okinawa, Japan Monday, Oct. 30, 2017. The U.S. Navy ship arrived at the American Navy base, five days after

Similarly, Phillip Johnson, a retired Coast Guard officer who was responsible for search and rescue operations, said something about the women’s story just doesn’t add up.

“There’s something wrong there,” Johnson told The Associated Press on Monday. “I’ve never heard of all that stuff going out at the same time.”

The Coast Guard said it has some additional questions for the women, but it characterized their process as a routine “review” and not an “investigation.”

Jennifer Appel, right, and Tasha Fuiava, left, hug with crew members of the USS Ashland on the deck of the USS Ashland at White Beach Naval Facility in Okinawa, Japan Monday, Oct. 30, 2017. The U.S. Navy ship arrived at the American Navy base, five dThe Associated Press
Jennifer Appel, right, and Tasha Fuiava, left, hug with crew members of the USS Ashland on the deck of the USS Ashland at White Beach Naval Facility in Okinawa, Japan Monday, Oct. 30, 2017. The U.S. Navy ship arrived at the American Navy base, five d

Appel and Fuiava said they sent distress calls for 98 consecutive days, but got nothing. They had drifted thousands of miles in the wrong direction when a Taiwanese fishing vessel found them and allowed them to make a mayday call, they said.

The women also declined to say why they felt they only had 24 hours to live.

“I would love to answer that question now. I’m not actually allowed to answer that as long as we are on the vessel,” Appel said before going on to detail how their sailboat was damaged while it was being towed by the Taiwanese vessel.

Jennifer AppelThe Associated Press
Jennifer Appel

Appel and Fuiava, along with their dogs, Zeus and Valentine, made it to solid ground in Okinawa, where they credited the crew of the USS Ashland for saving their lives.

The pair said they became stranded after storm hit and caused a mast malfunction. Soon, their engine flooded with water and nearly all of their communication capabilities were severed, according to the women.

USS Ashland, carrying two women who were rescued after months at sea on their storm-damaged sailboat, arrives at White Beach Naval Facility in Okinawa, Japan Monday, Oct. 30, 2017. The U.S. Navy ship arrived at the American Navy base, five days afterThe Associated Press
USS Ashland, carrying two women who were rescued after months at sea on their storm-damaged sailboat, arrives at White Beach Naval Facility in Okinawa, Japan Monday, Oct. 30, 2017. The U.S. Navy ship arrived at the American Navy base, five days after

“We actually talked about how we believed we’d been left for dead,” Appel added.

Despite the tumultuous journey, the women said they looked forward to recovering their damaged vessel and sailing the Pacific again.

“We would like to build the unsinkable and unbreakable boat … and still sail the Pacific because we never got a chance to go to Tahiti,” Appel said. “And we still never got to see the 20,000 islands, so I think that would be the most fantastic trip for May of next spring.”

ABC News’ Erin Dooley contributed to this report.



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