Women stranded for months at sea thought they'd be 'dead within 24 hours'

Appel and Fuiava were stranded at sea for 5 months when the Navy rescued them.

ByABC News
October 30, 2017, 6:52 AM

— -- Two Hawaiian mariners who say they were stranded at sea for five months feared they had less than 24 hours to live when the U.S. Navy rescued them last week.

Jennifer Appel and Tasha Fuiava, along with their two dogs, made it to solid ground in Okinawa on Friday after being rescued in the Pacific Ocean nearly 900 miles southeast of Japan.

“The crew of the USS Ashland saved our lives,” Appel said during a press briefing on Monday. “Had they not been able to locate us we would have been dead within 24 hours.”

“We actually talked about how we believed we’d been left for dead,” Appel added.

The women left Honolulu on May 3 aboard Appel's 50-foot sailboat, the Sea Nymph, for what they thought would be an 18-day trip to Tahiti, they said.

Appel and Fuiava said they sent distress calls for 98 consecutive days, but got nothing. They had drifted thousands of miles in the wrong direction when a Taiwanese fishing vessel found them and allowed them to make a mayday call, they said.

They said they could not speak on why they felt they only had 24 hours to live.

“I would love to answer that question now. I’m not actually allowed to answer that as long as we are on the vessel,” Appel said before going on to detail how their sailboat was damaged while it was being towed by the Taiwanese vessel.

“The pictures speak a thousand words. It is absolutely phenomenal the amount of damage that they did to the structure of that boat. So that kind of help speaks for itself.”

The excursion took a dangerous turn when a storm hit and caused a mast malfunction, the pair said. Soon, their engine flooded with water and nearly all of their communication capabilities were severed.

"We knew we weren't going to make it," Appel said. "So that's when we started making distress calls. We were hoping that one of our friends who likes to go deep sea fishing and taking people out might have gone past the 400-mile mark and might have cruised near where we would be."

Appel credited their dogs, Zeus and Valentine, with keeping them strong.

"At the humane society, because both of our puppies are rescues, there’s a sign when you walk out of the humane society in Oahu that says 'be the person your dog thinks you are,'" Appel said. "And without those two to make our lives better during the rough times we might not have made it as long as we did."

In addition to their technical problems, Appel said they survived two “horrific” shark attacks while lost at sea.

“When those things would hit the boat, my own teeth would rattle in my head,” Appel said. “We were on the ground just praying. Because even if someone would have been able to assist us, they were literally thousands of miles away and they [the sharks] were 6 inches off our shoulders.”

Appel, who said she spent two years preparing for the trip, said she and Fuiava survived the situation by bringing water purifiers and over a year's worth of food, mostly dry goods such as oatmeal, pasta and rice, on board with them.

Both women said they were nearly brought to tears when they saw the the U.S. Navy ship sailing toward them.

“It’s been a great experience. Everyone’s been kind, genuine, happy,” Fuiava said, recalling their rescue. “We came onboard [and] we forgot toothbrushes, toothpaste, we [also] forgot the last time we ate. They were, like, so kind.”

When asked about what they wanted to do next, Appel said they she hoped to recover their damaged vessel and eventually sail the Pacific again.

"We would like to build the unsinkable and unbreakable boat ... and still sail the Pacific because we never got a chance to go to Tahiti," Appel said. "And we still never got to see the 20,000 islands, so I think that would be the most fantastic trip for May of next spring."

ABC News’ Anthony Trotter and Courtney Han contributed to this report.