Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

Family in 20-hour capsize ordeal

A capsized boat in the waters off the Florida Keys (AP)

A family clung desperately to their capsized boat for nearly 20 hours in a life-or-death battle after a fishing trip off the Florida Keys turned to tragedy.

Four hours into the trip, rough waves flipped the boat over, hurling eight people overboard. Some did not know how to swim and seven of them, including a four-year-old girl, survived by clinging to the capsized vessel and a small cooler, suffering exhaustion, jellyfish stings and hypothermia.

"When the will to live kicks in, human beings can do amazing things," Petty Officer Nick Ameen of the US Coast Guard said.

But the 79-year-old matriarch of the group remains missing and is presumed drowned.

The family went fishing on Saturday morning in less-than-ideal conditions - it was raining, seas topped 7ft and winds were whipping up to 38mph. After they anchored three and a half miles off the island chain, two waves hit suddenly, capsizing the vessel.

The women had just enough time to grab the little girl, the cooler and a single life jacket. One of the men tried to rescue his mother, but she slipped through his grasp and disappeared.

Almost immediately, the two groups - the three women and girl and the three men - drifted apart.

Nearly a day later, as the weather improved, fishing boat captain David Jensen headed out with customers to catch live bait. In the distance, he saw a large object floating in the water. At first, he said, he thought there was only one person holding on to the sunken boat, its bow protruding a few feet out of the water. Then he got closer.

"I tried to get them to swim to the boat, but they said they didn't know how to swim," Mr Jensen said. "Then I had the mate throw them life jackets. One guy put on the life jacket and swam to the boat. The other two guys wouldn't get off the boat. ... They said they didn't know how to swim."

Zaida San Jurjo Gonzalez died and her son, Jorge Alejo Gonzalez, survived along with his wife, Tomasa Torres, the elderly woman's daughter, Elena Gonzalez, and her boyfriend Juglar Riveras. Also rescued were Jorge and Elena Gonzalez's uncle, Jose Miguel De Armas, his wife, Yunisleidy Lima Tejada, and their four-year-old daughter Fabiana De Armas Lima. All are from Florida.

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