March 23, 2011 -- A 77-year-old man and his dog are safe after being stranded several days in high seas off the Mexican coast.
The US Coast Guard rescued the man and dog from a disabled sailboat about 120 miles off the coast of Ensenada in Baja California Monday.
Shortly after I p.m., amateur HAM Radio operator Rex Weinheimer picked up a mayday call over a HAM maritime network in Stonewall,Texas, near Austin.
"I heard someone calling, but I couldn't make it all out." Weinheimer told ABC News. "The communications were so horrible that I could not tell the mental state or anything. The signal would come up then drop out."
After 10 minutes of disrupted communication, he determined one person was aboard the disabled vessel. Weinheimer said he also gathered that the boat was floating at sea in rough weather with broken sails and lines.
A commercial freighter, about an hour from the sailboat at the time of the call, was the first to make an attempted rescue, but rough seas prevented the freighter from getting close enough to the sailboat.
The ham operator notified the U.S. Coast Guard, who dispatched a MH-60 Jaywhawk helicopter and a C-130 Hercules plane.
The rescue team battled 12 to 15 foot swells and high winds to reach the boater. "The waves were pushing it away from me as I was trying to get to it. It was challenging swimming to the boat," Mike Linehan, Coast Guard aviation survival technician told ABC News affiliate KGTV.
Linehan was the first to make contact with the man. He told KGTV: "It was really hard to talk to him at first. Come to find out later he didn't have his hearing aids in. We were just trying to assess his condition."
The Coast Guard swimmer eventually evacuated the man and his dog from the boat. Both remained "calm considering being hoisted up in a helicopter at hurricane force wind," according to U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Henry Dunphy. "The dog sat on the man's lap the whole flight back to San Diego."
Dunphy told ABC News the man, who wasn't identified, had no recollection of how many days he had been at sea. The boat had set sail from Ventura, Calif. Because he lacked food and supplies, the man and dog apparently had been at sea for several days, possibly headed to Tahiti, according to the rescue crew.
He was taken to a San Diego hospital for a medical examination. Dunphy says both the man and his dog were fine.
Weinheimer, who has been a member of a network of amateur HAM radio operators since the 1990s, says he was one of many radio operators who assisted in the rescue effort. "It makes me very proud to be apart of a team that acts in unison. It's a terrific feeling to know that a man and his dog are alive today, that might not possibly be alive if we had not been there."