Three men whose fishing boat sank in the Gulf of Mexico off the Louisiana coast were rescued after surviving for more than a day despite being attacked by sharks that inflicted deep cuts on their hands and shredded one of their life jackets, according to their rescuers.
“Rescued just in the nick of time,” the U.S. Coast Guard 8th District Heartland said in a news release, while also posting dramatic video of the rescue.
Rescue crews found them only after one of the fishermen managed to send a text message from a nearly drained cellphone, U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Keefe said.
“It’s difficult for us to describe how lucky they were,” Keefe told NBC’s “Today” show on Tuesday. “All these things happened in their favor.”
The fishermen left Venice, Louisiana, during the weekend and became stranded when their 24-foot boat sank. The Coast Guard launched a search after a family member called Saturday night saying they hadn’t returned.
Using boats, planes and helicopters, the Coast Guard spent hours searching an area of the Gulf larger than Rhode Island, but found no sign of the missing fishermen.
Then, a relative a forwarded the Coast Guard a text message that the relative had received from one of the men. It was a screenshot of a Google map showing their approximate location in the water.
“He told me he had 2% battery and he fired off that text message,” Keefe said of the fisherman who sent the message.
When rescuers spotted the men Sunday afternoon off the coast of Empire, Louisiana, they saw two of them fighting off sharks circling in the water. All three were pulled from the water, with the two injured men taken by helicopter to a New Orleans hospital in stable condition.
“They had multiple lacerations on their hands, almost down to the bone,” Lt. Katy Caraway, a Coast Guard co-pilot, told “Today.” She added: “We actually were able to recover one of the life jackets that had been eaten through by a shark.”
The Coast Guard did not release the names of the fishermen. Keefe said had the three men not been wearing life jackets, they might not have survived.
Coast Guard crews in two boats, two planes and a helicopter searched about 1,250 square miles of water, slightly larger than the size of Rhode Island.
Earlier this year, a fisherman who was bitten by a shark near the Bahamas was pulled to safety by a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter crew.
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