ATLANTIC CITY, NJ (AP) — Six fishermen rescued by the Coast Guard after three days at sea said Tuesday they feared they would die as their disabled boat drifted farther into the Atlantic with a storm approaching.
The men’s reunions with their families were full of laughter and hugs, but less than 24 hours earlier, they admit, they were confronted with the possibility that they might never see their loved ones again.
Their boat, a 32-foot vessel called the Black Magic, was taking on water and running out of gas to run the pumps.
“I really had thoughts that we wouldn’t see them again. We did have life jackets,” said one survivor, Bernie Otremsky of Haddon Township. “But since no one knew where we were … how long are you going to last like that?”
A chain of good fortune gave them a happy ending.
The Coast Guard station on Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., heard bits of a mayday call. A helicopter that was part of the search team found their vessel, and a Coast Guard cutter slowly towed the boat to shore.
The reunion at the Coast Guard station in Atlantic City was joyous. The men’s relatives snapped pictures of the news photographers who were there to capture the boat’s arrival. Otremsky’s three grown daughters laughed at how their dad was wearing shorts and reminded him not to forget the coffee pot he’d taken from the family kitchen for the trip.
The six men, connected through family and work, set off Saturday morning for what was to be a 24-hour deep-sea tuna fishing excursion.
Sunday night, Geoffrey McDade, a truck driver from Forked River, was planning to take his wife out for dinner to celebrate their 28th anniversary.
His son, James McDade, the boat’s owner, was due back soon at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton, Conn., where he’s a first class petty officer.
But around 1 a.m. Sunday, the men realized their boat’s battery was dying after an electrical failure.
The group of longtime boaters with mechanical experience tried using a generator to give the batteries enough of a charge to start. They tried rewiring the vessel. Nothing worked.
They soon found themselves with their sandwiches eaten. They started to figure out how to ration the remaining food and water and agreed to do whatever they could to keep the boat afloat.
They slept, prayed and worked on the boat. They tried to use the radio to reach someone, even as they drifted farther from the coast.
The morale had reached a low point by sundown Monday.
Geoffrey McDade said some of the men took photographs of a beautiful sunset, then worried they would never show them to anyone.
But the men’s families were hopeful. They had confirmed that one of the voices recorded on a mayday call was Otremsky’s.
The men didn’t know if their calls had been heard. When they turned on a GPS unit to report their location, the battery and the radio died. They spent hours trying to put out another signal.
Then they heard the whirring sound of a Coast Guard helicopter, which located them 120 miles off shore.
James McDade, the Navy man, said he learned an important lesson:
“I’m going to give the Coast Guard a lot more credit,” he said. “No more Coast Guard jokes.”
His father owed wife Sharon an even more special late anniversary dinner. “I’ll forgive him,” she said, then jokingly reconsidered: “We’ll see what I get.”
And Ray Somerville of Woodbridge said he’s no longer eager to go so far off shore.
“I’ve been on the water a lot of my life,” he said. “Going out there is a whole different thing to do.”
And the six of them — who also included Jerry Lewis of Trenton and Edward Silcox of Langhorne, Pa. — didn’t catch a single fish.
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