April 26, 2013

Siblings survive very scary ordeal at sea

The brother and sister swim for it after their chartered fishing boat conks out and sinks.

The Associated Press

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — The fishing trip off the rugged north coast of St. Lucia was supposed to last all day, but about four hours into the journey on Sunday, the boat's electrical system crackled and popped.

Dan Suski, Kate Suski
click image to enlarge

Dan and Kate Suski pose for a photo while vacationing in San Diego in 2009. The brother and sister are recovering on the eastern Caribbean island of St. Lucia after their boat sank on Sunday, forcing them to swim almost 14 hours to reach land.

The Associated Press/Courtesy Photo

Dan Suski, a 30-year-old business owner and information technology expert from San Francisco, had been wrestling a 200-pound marlin in rough seas with help from his sister, Kate Suski, a 39-year-old architect from Seattle. It was around noon.

He was still trying to reel in the fish when water rushed into the cabin and flooded the engine room, prompting the captain to radio for help as he yelled out their coordinates.

It would be nearly 14 hours and a long, long swim before what was supposed to be a highlight of their sunny vacation would come to an end.

As the waves pounded the boat they had chartered, the captain threw them life preservers.

"He said, 'Jump out! Jump out!"' Kate Suski recalled in a telephone interview Thursday with The Associated Press.

The Suskis obeyed and jumped into the water with the captain and first mate. Less than five minutes later, the boat sank.

The group was at least eight miles from shore and being tossed by waves more than twice their size.

"The captain was telling us to stay together, and that help was on its way and that we needed to wait," Kate Suski said.

They waited for about an hour, but no one came.

"I was saying, 'Let's swim, let's swim. If they're coming, they will find us. We can't just stay here,"' she recalled.

As they began to swim, the Suskis lost sight of the captain and first mate amid the burgeoning swells. Soon after, they also lost sight of land amid the rain.

A plane and a helicopter appeared in the distance and hovered over the area, but no one spotted the siblings.

Several hours went by, and the sun began to set.

"There's this very real understanding that the situation is dire," Kate Suski said. " ... We both processed the possible ways we might die. Would we drown? Be eaten by a shark?"

"Hypothermia?" Dan Suski asked.

They swam for 12 to 14 hours, talking as they pushed and shivered their way through the ocean. Kate Suski couldn't stop thinking about sharks. "I thought I was going to vomit I was so scared," she said.

When they finally came within 30 feet of land, they realized they couldn't get out of the water.

"There were sheer cliffs coming into the ocean," she said. "We knew we would get crushed."

They swam until they noticed a spit of sand nearby. When they got to land, they collapsed, barely able to walk. It was past midnight, and they didn't notice any homes in the area.

"Dan said the first priority was to stay warm," she recalled.

They hiked inland and lay side by side, pulling up grass and brush to cover themselves.

They heard a stream nearby but decided to wait until daylight to determine whether the water was safe to drink.

As the sun came up, they began to hike through thick brush, picking up bitter mangoes along the way and stopping to eat green bananas.

"It was probably the best and worst banana I've ever had," Dan Suski recalled.

Some three hours later, they spotted a young farm worker walking with his white dog. He fed them crackers, gave them water and waited until police arrived, the Suskis said.

"We asked if he knew anything about the captain and mate," Kate Suski said. "He said he had seen the news the night before and they hadn't been found at that time. I think we felt a sense of tragedy that we weren't prepared for."

The Suskis were hospitalized and received IV fluids. They also learned that the captain and mate were rescued after spending nearly 23 hours in the water.

They don't blame anyone for the shipwreck.

"We are so grateful to be alive right now," Kate Suski said. "Nothing can sort of puncture that bubble."

Upon returning to their hotel in St. Lucia earlier this week, the Suskis were upgraded to a suite as they recover from cuts on their feet, severe tendonitis in their ankles from swimming and abrasions from the lifejackets.

"It's really been amazing," Dan Suski said. "It's a moving experience for me."

On Saturday, they plan to fly back to the U.S. to meet their father in Miami.

Once a night owl, Kate Suski no longer minds getting up early for flights, or for any other reason.

"Since this ordeal, I've been waking up at dawn every morning," she said. "I've never looked forward to the sunrise so much in my life."

 

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