NATIONAL NEWS

Shark attacks, jellyfish stings and 28 hours floating at sea: This is how three boaters survived

Oct 17, 2022, 1:22 PM | Updated: 2:08 pm
A Coast Guard Air Station New Orleans MH-60 Jayhawk hovers over their rescue swimmer during a rescu...
A Coast Guard Air Station New Orleans MH-60 Jayhawk hovers over their rescue swimmer during a rescue Sunday, approximately 25 miles offshore from Empire, Louisiana, Oct. 9, 2022. Two of the three boaters sustained injuries to their hands due to a shark attack. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Coast Guard Air Station Corpus Christi)
(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Coast Guard Air Station Corpus Christi)

(CNN) — Three boaters clung to a makeshift raft of ice chests and fended off shark attacks and jellyfish stings in the waters near Empire, Louisiana, until they were rescued 28 hours later, all thanks to a miraculous text message.

The three longtime friends set out on October 8 to fish red snapper like they had many times before. But rough seas soon began disturbing their fishing boat, lapping water inside the vessel.

“The minute we saw the back of the boat start taking on water, I knew it right then and there,” Phong Le told NBC’s “Today” show on Wednesday. “It was like the perfect storm for the perfect accident.”

The front of the boat was tied to an oil rig, but the waves worsened, crashing aboard the boat. The men had about two minutes to react before their 24-foot center console boat sank around 10 a.m., according to an interview with “Good Morning America.”

The men quickly created an improvised raft, tying two ice chests together with Le’s bandana.

“Every time I go fishing, I wear a bandana because I lose a hat every time,” Le said.

They tried to propel themselves toward the oil rig to call for help.

“Every oil rig has some kind of phone, or something on there, so we figured we could get on there and we could make a distress call,” Le said. But they never made it.

A shark attacks

As the sky grew dark, the three men clung to the coolers, the moon providing some comfort.

“Good thing there was full moon out because we had light,” Luan Nguyen told NBC. “We couldn’t barely see anything, so we just drifted at night.”

Until an unwelcome visitor arrived. A shark battered into Nguyen and a fight for survival ensued.

“The shark hit the life vest and I tried to push him off. He wouldn’t go away, so I jabbed him in his eyes,” Nguyen told NBC. “I put my thumbs in his eyes and he took off. I got a little couple scars, but you know.”

Other sea creatures made their presence known too, making things even harder for the floating men.

“Every 15 to 20 minutes, you were constantly being stung by jellyfish,” Le told NBC.

“In the middle of the night, I woke up with this jellyfish this big just in my lap,” Le added, motioning during the interview that the jellyfish was about as wide as he was.

The men stayed mostly silent through it all, bobbing in the water.

“It was very cold, so we were just trying to stay warm, just trying to hold each other and stay warm,” Le said.

They were spotted from the air

Le separated from the group the next morning. He wanted to swim about five miles to a shrimp boat and call for help, he told NBC. But when he got about a mile out, the shrimper left, he said.

Trying to figure out his location, Le took out his cell phone, protected by a waterproof case — it had less than 5% battery and was in airplane mode to save the charge.

“I opened up my phone and that’s when all of a sudden, all of the text messages came in,” Le said. “The whole time I didn’t have no signal but out in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, I had a signal.”

Le didn’t waste time. He said he screen-grabbed his location on a map and texted it to a friend. The phone died soon afterward.

The friend received the message and contacted the Coast Guard with the boaters’ location.

The men didn’t know it, but before the miraculous text message went through, the Coast Guard was already on their way, Lt. Katy Caraway from Air Station New Orleans told CNN on Thursday. She was the co-pilot of a Jayhawk helicopter that helped rescue the men.

Five minutes into their flight, Caraway said they got the radio transmission that there was new information they could use in the search. It took them 25 minutes to get to the location sent in the text message.

After 15 to 20 minutes of searching the waters, a pilot from a Coast Guard airplane, cruising at an altitude of 1,000 feet, spotted one of the men waving from the water, Caraway said.

“Le, he was the first survivor that we picked up and he was actually the one who got separated from the rest of his group because he had tried swimming to a shrimp boat to call for help,” Caraway told CNN.

A rescue swimmer jumped from the helicopter and swam over to check on Le, Caraway said.

“He didn’t talk much at all,” she said. “He was completely exhausted.”

Caraway moved into position, dropped the rescue basket and hoisted Le up to the helicopter.

It was about that time that the helicopter crew heard that the other two boaters had been found nearly a mile away, Caraway said. They flew to the response boat to help.

Two boaters were rescued from sharks

Coast Guard Seaman Andrew Stone was on a 45-foot response boat when the call came in about the other two men, he said.

“They were getting harassed by sharks when we pulled up,” Stone said.

Nguyen was bleeding into the water, his hands covered in bites from blacktip sharks, about 4 feet in length, Stone told CNN on Tuesday.

“His orange life preserver had been ripped about halfway down by the fish,” Stone said.

Stone pulled Nguyen onto the boat first.

“I just remember him picking me up, pulling me out of the water, was like ‘wow, I made it,'” Nguyen told “Today” with tears in his eyes.

Petty Officers Joshua Mcanally and Cooper Butcher pulled the second man from the water, Stone said.

“These guys were suffering from pretty severe exposure. They were very dehydrated, hungry, of course,” Stone said.

The boaters were also sunburned and suffering hypothermia when they were rescued Sunday, he said.

“The water temperature of the Gulf, where they were, (was) 78 degrees, which sounds warm, but anything below your body temperature will start robbing heat,” Stone said.

The Coast Guard crews reunited the men pulled from the water with Le, who was already on the helicopter, he said.

The rescue ‘takes the cake’

Members of the Coast Guard train for these kinds of events, but this rescue was anything but ordinary, Caraway said.

“People like this who have been in the water for a long time, who have been displaced from their vessel with no form of communication, it is almost impossible to find them and recover them,” Caraway said. “This takes the cake for the rescue.”

“The likelihood of finding these individuals before the text message,” Caraway added, “was slim to none. After the text message, it was still very slim.”

In all, about 30 Coast Guard members were involved in the search effort.

“To bring these people home, it’s something we train for every week and to do it textbook operationally and actually save three survivors … was just probably the best feeling that you can have as a Coast Guard operator,” Caraway said.

Coast Guard Sector New Orleans is planning a gathering for the survivors and all response units who were part of the rescue.

“I just look at it as doing my job,” Caraway said. “I’m just happy that they will be able to spend the rest of their lives with their families.”


The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

National News

A masked suspect is seen lighting a Molotov cocktail in front of Temple Ner Tamid in a still image ...
Celina Tebor, Isa Kaufman-Geballe and Zoe Sottile

Man throws Molotov cocktail at New Jersey synagogue in arson attempt, police say

A man threw a Molotov cocktail at a New Jersey synagogue in an arson attempt on Sunday morning, police and the synagogue said.
1 day ago
Annie Wersching, seen here in 2019, has passed away. (Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP)...
Chuck Johnston and Alli Rosenbloom

Annie Wersching, ’24’ actress, passes away at 45

Actress Annie Wersching passed away of cancer early Sunday morning, her publicist, Craig Schneider told CNN. Wersching was 45 years old.
1 day ago
Authorities in Grants Pass, Oregon, are warning that suspect Benjamin Obadiah Foster, 36, may be tr...
Andy Rose and Nouran Salahieh

Oregon man suspected of kidnapping, beating a woman may be using dating apps to evade police

Oregon police are warning that a man suspected of kidnapping a woman and beating her unconscious may now be using dating apps to evade capture or find potential new victims.
1 day ago
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 18: U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy speaks during the United States Conf...
Allison Gordon and Pamela Brown

Surgeon General says 13 is ‘too early’ to join social media

US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy says he believes 13 is too young for children to be on social media platforms.
1 day ago
Saginaw Police K9 Cigan sits behind a table with evidence found inside a stolen car. (WNEM)...
Anna Kathman

Stolen vehicle, multiple drugs located by Michigan K9 officer

Saginaw Police said two suspects are behind bars after a stolen vehicle was located during a traffic stop by a K9 officer.
1 day ago
A 29-year old woman has been arrested after allegedly posing as a teenager and attending classes at...
Kiely Westhoff and Zoe Sottile, CNN

29-year-old woman posed as high school teen facing charges in New Jersey, police say

A 29-year-old New Jersey woman is facing charges over claims she used false government documents in a ploy to pose as a teenager at a high school, according to police.
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Fiber Optical cables connected to an optic ports and Network cables connected to ethernet ports...
Brian Huston, CE and Anthony Perkins, BICSI

Why Every Business Needs a Structured Cabling System

A structured cabling system benefits businesses by giving you faster processing speeds and making your network more efficient and reliable.
notebook with password notes highlighted...
PC Laptops

How to Create Strong Passwords You Can Actually Remember

Learn how you can create strong passwords that are actually easy to remember! In a short time you can create new ones in seconds.
house with for rent sign posted...
Chase Harrington, president and COO of Entrata

Top 5 Reasons You May Want to Consider Apartment Life Over Owning a Home

There are many benefits of renting that can be overshadowed by the allure of buying a home. Here are five reasons why renting might be right for you.
Festive kitchen in Christmas decorations. Christmas dining room....
Lighting Design

6 Holiday Decor Trends to Try in 2022

We've rounded out the top 6 holiday decor trends for 2022 so you can be ahead of the game before you start shopping. 
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to Choose What MBA Program is Right for You: Take this Quiz Before You Apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Diverse Group of Energetic Professionals Team Meeting in Modern Office: Brainstorming IT Programmer...
Les Olson

Don’t Let a Ransomware Attack Get You Down | Protect Your Workplace Today with Cyber Insurance

Business owners and operators should be on guard to protect their workplace. Cyber insurance can protect you from online attacks.
Shark attacks, jellyfish stings and 28 hours floating at sea: This is how three boaters survived