Fishermen survive almost five months adrift

Tuesday, November 13, 2001

SYDNEY, Australia -- Two fishermen survived almost five months adrift on the Pacific Ocean in a small metal boat by catching fish and birds and drinking rainwater, one of the survivors and a doctor said Monday.

Two other men died during the torrid journey, which saw them drift nearly 2,480 miles west from Western Samoa to Papua New Guinea.

Lafaili Tofi, 36, and Telea Pa'a, 27, were extremely lucky to be alive, said Dr. Barry Kirby from Alotau Hospital in eastern Papua New Guinea.

"Basically they survived on the rainwater they got while they were drifting, some small fish which they caught and also some birds which landed on the ... vessel," Kirby said in a telephone interview.

The men were fishing off their native Western Samoa on June 20 when a huge load of fish dragged their 20-foot aluminum boat under water.

The men righted the well-built boat by cutting away the fishing lines and two outboard motors but were left powerless as currents pushed them out into open ocean, missing many islands on the journey, Kirby said. Several ships passed by, but none came to their rescue.

The survivors were finally rescued last week by a villager on Normanby Island in Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea, who paddled out to them after they fired off their last flare.

"They suffered from exposure and were basically on a starvation diet," he said. "One man is unable to walk, he's a stretcher case. He's very, very wasted and he was probably about a week away from death. The other man was quite strong considering his ordeal."

Kirby said both men were stable and recovering well.

In a telephone conversation with the AP from his hospital bed, Tofi said he had been scared and doubted he would survive.

"I am feeling well now," he said.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: