Capsized Boat Survivors Clung to Hope and a Cooler

Boaters Survive By Clinging to CoolerABC News
Boaters Survive By Clinging to Cooler

It is an amazing tale of survival and courage, but also a tale of mistakes that almost cost three boaters their lives. It is also a will to live that may have been what saved them.

John Nevarez, one of the survivors, said, "Because of the fact that we never gave up, we're here."

Speaking publicly for the first time since their rescue off the coast of Florida, Nevarez recounted the harrowing tale of how he, younger brother Elias and friend Rebecca Sullivan spent three days adrift in the ocean after their fishing boat capsized after two huge waves struck their boat last Sunday.

VIDEO: Boaters Survive by Clinging to Cooler Speak for First TimePlay
Lost at Sea: Boaters Survive by Clinging to Cooler

"The first wave came over the back end and filled the boat up considerably with water. The waves that hit us, the first one was in the upper six foot to seven foot [range]," he said. "It looked huge."

He said, "The boat capsized in eight seconds."

Their radio was knocked out, and there was no time to grab their life preservers. For the next 10 hours, they clung to the overturned boat.

"At that point, I looked at each one of them and I told them if you have any fears get rid of them now," he said. "There was no fear, there was truly no fear. We knew we were all going to survive."

They did manage to salvage two coolers. They had water to drink and some squid -- their fish bait -- to eat. On two occassions they saw Coast Guard searchers in the distance, but the would-be rescuers didn't see them.

Nevarez, a navy veteran, imposed a militarylike regimen: someone always kept watch, while the other two rested. Food and water were carefully rationed.

"We checked on each other every minute to the point where it was almost annoying," Nevarez said.

They passed the long hours talking about their families and sharing favorite lines from movies.

"We talked about movie quotes, each other's families," Nevarez said. "[Rebecca's] little daughter, my daughter, Erica, his wife, our famlies, anything we could think of."

The next day, Monday, the three spotted what looked like an oil rig in the distance and decided to head toward it, using the larger cooler as a flotation device. They never made it.

Errors: Boaters Had Not Filed 'Float Plan,' Return Time

The group was at the mercy of the sea, the sun and the swarms of jellyfish stinging their legs.

For two days, they floated -- three people hanging on to a single cooler. But they never gave up hope.

"It literally was just, I'm not letting my brother and my friend die. There was just no way," Nevarez said.

On Wednesday, Sullivan spotted a boat in the distance. The three waved their shirts until they were seen. Finally, their ordeal was over.

"Screaming joy, even with the worst, sorest mouths in the world, a salt-water filled tongues, it was just screaming happiness," Nevarez said.

Exhausted, sun-blistered, dehydrated and badly stung by jellyfish, they were hospitalized in Jacksonville, Florida. After their ordeal, they're doing just fine.

Naverez concedes they made two crucial errors: They did not file a so-called float plan telling someone where they were going and when they were expected to return. And they took off the life preservers they were wearing because they were hot.

In retrospect, it seems somehow fitting that the boat is named Problem Child.