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Two women from Hawaii who were rescued by the U.S. Navy after being lost at sea for five months defended their dramatic account of the ordeal in an exclusive interview Wednesday with TODAY.
The Coast Guard is reviewing records from the months Jennifer Appel and Tasha Fuiava spent at sea after the pair took off from Honolulu on May 3 on their 50-foot sailboat, the Sea Nymph. The women were headed for Tahiti but said they immediately hit a huge storm that lasted for days.
The National Weather Service in Hawaii, however, insists their records show no major storms of that scale in the area at that time.
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Appel said the storm advisory authorities issued at the time “was anticipated to be smaller than some of the down drafts that we saw,” she said. “If you were there, you would say the same thing I did. It really felt a lot bigger.”
The route from Hawaii to Tahiti is about 2,600 miles and a common course for mariners that usually takes about a month to complete. But the women claimed storms flooded their engine and broke their mast. They said they spent the following months with most forms of communication broken.
The Coast Guard has said they made contact in June with sailors on a boat named the Sea Nymph who informed them of plans to reach Tahiti the next day. Appel disputed details of that account after pulling out a hand-held GPS system.
"This is one of the GPS's that we had on our Sea Nymph and it shows that we were nowhere near Tahiti," she said.
Appel did acknowledge talking to the Coast Guard, but only on "the third day after we came through the storm." The next time they spoke with the Coast Guard was following their rescue on Oct. 27.
The women also defended their claims of their boat being attacked by sharks, which Appel described as "absolutely terrifying." Although scientists have argued that sharks do not normally behave the way the women described, the ladies stuck to their story.
"We were too ignorant to realize what was going on, and the sharks had been telling us, 'You're in our living room and you’re not leaving fast enough,'" Appel said. "And we didn’t realize that was what we were being told until it was too late."
Appel also defended the women's decision against using their distress beacon during the shark attack, saying they reasoned it would take "four hours to a day" before the Coast Guard could have flown to the area.
"We took our chances with the man upstairs, who gave us grace and allowed us to still be here today," she said.
A Taiwanese fishing vessel eventually spotted the women’s sailboat in late October. The U.S. Navy eventually rescued the women on Oct. 27, picking them up about 900 miles southeast of Japan.
The women said they survived thanks to a water purifier and a year’s worth of oatmeal, rice and pasta they packed in case of an emergency.
Both women said they would take another trip on the water, albeit with more preparations.
“You learn from your mistakes and you prepare for what you handled,” Fuiava said.
Appel pointed out that she and her friend did not seek the attention they have gained.
“It’s a unique situation. We were not expecting it,” she said. “We did not call the media, the Navy did. And we’re enjoying the ride and we’re glad to be here.”