On Tuesday, the U.S. Coast Guard rescued three Cuban nationals who were stranded for 33 days on Anguilla Cay, an uninhabited island of the Bahamas northeast of Havana. The three survivors, one woman and two men, managed to swim to the island after their boat capsized in rough seas. They sustained themselves on a diet of coconuts, meat from conch shells, and rats.
A crew from Coast Guard Air Station Miami, in an HC-144 Ocean Sentry, originally spotted the three while on a routine patrol on Monday. They spotted a large cross that they had built, as well as makeshift orange flags that they waved to gain the plane’s attention. The crew dropped them food, water, and a radio to establish communications.
An MH-60 from Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater was sent to retrieve them and bring them to Lower Keys Medical Center in Monroe County, Florida for treatment. Incredibly, while dehydrated and exhausted, they were reportedly in good spirits and otherwise no worse for the wear. The ordeal feels like something pulled from a Hollywood script (or a certain 1960’s sitcom), but the situation was all too real for the marooned trio, as they told the Coast Guard crews that the lack of fresh water eventually would have killed them.
“That is pretty extraordinary. It was incredible,” Coast Guard Lt. Justin Dougherty told Miami news station WPLG. “I don’t know how they did it. I am amazed that they were in such good shape.”
The Coast Guard tends to be the forgotten middle child in the armed forces world, but they quietly carry out operations every day that contribute to maritime security and law enforcement, in addition to search and rescue missions like this one. The two crews involved fall under U.S. Coast Guard District Seven, which is responsible for 1.7 million square miles of waters off the shores of South Carolina, Georgia and all of Florida besides the panhandle, as well as Puerto Rico and 34 foreign nations, according to the district’s website. Much of the Coast Guard’s work in the 7th District is undoubtedly tied to illegal immigration and prevention of drugs reaching American shores, but yesterday, their presence saved lives.
“Thanks to our aircrews diligently conducting routine patrols, we were able to spot people in distress and intervene,” said Sean Connett, the Seventh’s command duty officer, in a press release Wednesday morning.
“This was a very complex operation involving asset and crews from different units, but thanks to good communication and coordination between command centers and pilots, we were able to safely get everyone to a medical facility before the situation could worsen.”
Feature photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Brian McCrum