Thu, Nov 02, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Rescued women defend their account of ordeal at sea

DISCREPANCIES:Doubt has been cast on some of the women’s claims, including surviving a storm and a shark attack, as well as contact with a Taiwanese fishing boat

AP, HONOLULU

Two women from Hawaii who were rescued after being lost at sea on Tuesday defended their account of the ordeal, insisting that a storm was whipping up 9m waves and near hurricane force winds on the night they set sail in a 15m boat, despite government records that showed no severe weather in the area.

The US Coast Guard is reviewing records from the days after Jennifer Appel and Tasha Fuiava put to sea, but NASA satellite images for the days around their departure show no organized storms in the area where they planned to travel.

There was a tropical cyclone in the region, but it was near Fiji, thousands of kilometers west of Hawaii. Localized squalls are known to pop up, but a storm lasting three days would have been visible on satellite, not to mention mass warnings to the public to brace for the weather.

“We got into a Force 11 storm, and it lasted for two nights and three days,” Appel said.

Coast guard officials on Monday told reporters that the two women had an emergency beacon, but never turned it on, because they did not fear for their lives.

If they had, rescue would have been headed their way in a matter of minutes, the official said.

The women “stated they never felt like they were truly in distress, like in a 24-hour period they were going to die,” coast guard spokeswoman Petty Officer Second Class Tara Molle said on Monday.

The women on Tuesday said that they did not use the beacon because they never felt they were in immediate danger, yet they have been quoted as saying they did not think they would survive another day and that they were fearful during a dramatic tiger shark attack that lasted for six hours.

Furthermore, the pair said they had been flagging vessels and sending distress signals for at least 98 days.

“We knew we weren’t going to make it,” Appel said. “So that’s when we started making distress calls.”

The coast guard outlined other inconsistencies in their account, most notably on the timing of events.

Appel’s mother, Joyce, told reporters that she called the coast guard to report her daughter missing a week and a half after they departed for what they believed would be an 18-day trip to Tahiti.

However, the coast guard never got a call from Joyce Appel. They received a call from a “family friend” they identified as a male on May 19, still several days before the women were expected to arrive.

The women said they filed a float plan listing their course and other details with some friends and relatives.

However, in an interview with the coast guard, the women said they had filed no float plan.

They also defended their claims that their boat would not fit into harbors on some Hawaiian islands, places where much larger vessels come and go regularly.

Their description of 6m to 9m-long tiger sharks ramming their boat in a coordinated attack for more than six hours could simply be misperception, but scientists who study sharks said that behavior has never been recorded and that tiger sharks grow to only about 5m in length.

University of Hawaii professor and veteran shark researcher Kim Holland said he has never heard of any kind of shark repeatedly attacking a boat hull throughout a night, adding that tiger sharks never jump out of the water and do not make coordinated attacks.

Sometimes sharks will congregate around a food source like a whale carcass, but Holland said that was unlikely in this case “if there’s nothing there to attract the animals. I mean this is just an inert boat hull.”

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