A day trip in an open boat turned tragic for three men when a storm pushed them out to sea and they spent nearly seven weeks adrift in the Pacific. The men, who survived on birds, fish and collected rainwater for drinking, were rescued in February by a fishing vessel.
Benjamin Tooki, 22 — a dual citizen of Australia and the tiny Pacific nation of Kiribati — his uncle Koraubara Pebaka, 47, and friend Taea Matakite, 23, set out Jan. 2 from one of the smaller islands in the Kiribati chain north of Fiji, bound for the main island, according to Australian news accounts. As a storm rolled in and seas became rough, the 20-footer’s 15-hp engine failed, and the aluminum boat got caught in strong currents. The intended passage was about 15 miles.
A search was launched when the men didn’t arrive at their destination, but the boat wasn’t located and the men were presumed dead. Tooki’s mother reportedly never gave up hope and launched a private search for her son.
A New Zealand air force plane patrolling for missing fishing boats spotted the boat in the vicinity of Tabiteuea. A fishing vessel was sent to the location to rescue the men, who, remarkably, were in relatively good health. They told authorities that they never gave up hope but were frustrated as boats passed nearby but did not see them.