A day of fishing ended quickly for two anglers who headed out in an open boat from Galveston Bay after a rogue wave swamped and capsized their boat.
Thus began a grueling test of survival for the friends — one of whom could not swim — and a two-day search for them by the Coast Guard.
A Coast Guard helicopter based in Houston came across the overturned hull of a boat on Wednesday, April 27, and lowered a rescue swimmer.
The anglers were nowhere to be found.
It turns out that after the capsize, one of the men donned a life jacket and they began to swim. Still together, the man without a PFD came across the cooler from their boat and clung to it. They had water and a sandwich in the cooler and split it, but they eventually became separated.
"We never gave up on these two gentlemen, and bringing them home safe to their families is what Coast Guardsmen live to do," said Capt. Brian Penoyer, the commander of Sector Houston-Galveston.
Amazingly, the anglers found their way to separate oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico and clung fiercely to them.
At 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, April 27, two days after they went missing, a Coast Guard helicopter pilot spotted one of the men during the pilot's final pass over the area before returning to refuel.
"Happened to see him waving a shirt at us," pilot Zach Gross told KHOU News.
The chopper was low on fuel, so the rescue swimmer, Jesse Weaver, jumped into the 75-degree water to save Michael Watkins, 51. "Told me he couldn't swim," Weaver said. "I told him, 'Don't worry. That's what we're trained for.’ "
Watkins was not wearing a life jacket. He told rescuers that he stayed alive by using a cooler to float to the platform. During two days at sea Watkins had no idea that his buddy, Raymond Jacik, was also still alive, clinging to a different platform about a mile away.
When Weaver found Jacik during another pass, he was extremely hypothermic.
"The second survivor told me, 'I don't think I'd make it another night,' " Weaver said.
"Especially as the boating season starts, it's important to remember you may not have time to put on your life jacket in an emergency," Penoyer said. "We were all very lucky this accident happened where it did and they could climb up on a nearby platform. Check that your life jackets are serviceable, and wear them — it could mean the difference in surviving."
Both men were reported to be in stable condition.