SEVEN members of an American family, including a four-year-old girl, survived 20 hours at sea after their boat capsized during a fishing trip off the Florida Keys.
Rough waves flipped the boat four hours into a family fishing trip on Sunday, tossing eight people overboard.
Seven of them were rescued after 20 hours, but the 79-year-old matriarch of the group remained missing today and was presumed drowned.
Some of the group didn’t know how to swim. They survived by clinging desperately to their capsized vessel and a small cooler, but were suffering exhaustion, jellyfish stings and hypothermia.
“When the will to live kicks in, human beings can do amazing things,” Coast Guard Petty Officer Nick Ameen said.
The family from Florida went fishing on Sunday in less-than-ideal conditions. It was raining, seas topped 2.1m and winds were whipping up to 60km/h.
The women had just enough time to grab the girl, the cooler and a single life jacket. One of the men tried to rescue his mother, but she slipped through his grasp and disappeared.
Almost immediately, the two groups – the three women and girl and the three men – drifted apart.
A commercial fisherman called the Coast Guard the next day after spotting the three men clinging to their capsized boat.
Fishing boat captain David Jensen and his customers helped the three men to Jensen’s boat and called the US Coast Guard, which found the women hanging on to the floating cooler.
The seven family members were soon reunited and treated for shock and hypothermia.
“They were all pretty happy to see each other,” said Kendra Graves, a seaman with the Coast Guard.
“They shouldn’t have been out there,” said Florida Fish and Wildlife spokesman Robert Dube, whose agency is investigating. “It was nasty from the get-go.”