Two sailors who were stranded at sea for nearly five months said they didn’t activate their emergency beacon, which would have led to their rescue, because they were never in “an immediate life-threatening scenario,” one of them told ABC News.
Jennifer Appel, an experienced sailor, and Natasha “Tasha” Fuiava sailed from Hawaii on May 3 with their dogs, Valentine and Zeus, en route to Tahiti.
Less than a month into their trip, their engine stopped running, and a month later they began making daily distress radio calls for their rescue. They never turned on their Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) because they did not feel that they were “truly in distress” or that their situation was “dire,” a Coast Guard spokesperson told ABC.
"EPIRB calls are for people who are in an immediate life-threatening scenario,” Appel said to ABC. “It would be shameful to call on the USCG resources when not in imminent peril and allow someone else to perish because of it."
"The USCG Honolulu Sector receives many calls a day," Appel continued. "They have limited resources for the enormous span of water their area covers. A fair amount of those calls are for people in the process of losing their boat and swimming in the ocean. While I do not deny that a broken spreader, blown backstay and non-functioning motor are all disabling situations -- and we had all at the same time when we were at the Equator and 160 degrees West, our boat was still afloat; we had food, water and limited maneuvering capability due to fortifying the broken items at the mast. (Yes, I climbed the mast in open ocean to make hack patches so we could continue as any good sailor would.)"
Appel said that she instead made "pan-pan calls" instead of EPIRB or MAYDAY calls to let the Coast Guard and other boats know that their boat was damaged, but the situation wasn’t immediately life-threatening.
However, unbeknownst to Appel and Fuiava, their antenna was damaged, and their signals only travelled 1 to 2 miles — not the 200 miles of reception they believed they had.
"Had we known our calls were going nowhere — we would have used the EPIRB — but hindsight is 20/20,” Appel said. "We did a MAYDAY call for assistance only when it was absolutely necessary and help did arrive because the resources were available. We are grateful for that."
The women and their dogs were safely rescued last Wednesday by the USS Ashland less than 1,00 miles from Japan and 5,000 miles from their intended destination.
The sensational story has led some sailing experts to wonder if the whole disaster was a stunt.
“Several of Ms. Appel’s statements about her voyage do not check out and don’t ring true to many experienced sailors,” said Linus Wilson, a boating expert and author of three sailing books, to ABC. “I think a reasonable person may start out thinking that Ms. Appel was just a foolish skipper, but it seems likely many events that she recounts may have been fabricated to sensationalize the story.”
The two also reported that early on in their journey, their boat was rocked by a "Force 11 storm" that "lasted for two nights and three days." But as NPR reported, the National Weather Service in Honolulu said there was no organized storm system near Hawaii on May 3 or the following days.
"Archived NASA satellite images confirm there were no tropical storms around Hawaii that day," the Associated Press reported. "Appel expressed surprise that there was no record of the storm. She said they received a Coast Guard storm warning while sailing after sunset on May 3."