View Full Version : Fishermen recount ordeal at sea

07-04-2012, 12:15 PM

Written by Arvin Temkar Pacific Daily News

At first, Jason Cruz couldn't face the ocean.

He leaned against a concrete wall on the beachfront yesterday afternoon and buried his head in his hand, trying to hold back tears.

The water was placid yesterday, but it's the same ocean that nearly took Cruz's life two days earlier.

On Saturday evening, Cruz and his brother-in-law, with three life jackets between them, were locked in an hours-long struggle against stormy seas. They bobbed, boatless and freezing in the ocean, miles away from Guam, until they were rescued by the Guam Fire Department late that night.

After revisiting the waters that almost consumed them, the amateur fishermen, still exhausted and in some pain, recounted their story -- and the lessons they learned.

Gone fishing

Saturday's excursion started off as a regular trip, one that Cruz, 33, of Mangilao, and Jimmy Flores, 26, of Yigo had taken together many times for more than a year.

Most weekends, the men would take out a 14-foot motorboat and bring back yellow-fin tuna and bonito for their families.

The two left the Hagta Boat Basin around 3 p.m Saturday. Spotting a school of fish some miles off the coast, they chased it, reeling in a large catch before realizing they had drifted far from land.

"We could see the island, but Cabras was like that small," said Cruz, pinching his index finger and thumb together.

That's when he noticed "this big, huge, dark cloud."

The two decided to head in before they lost sight of the island. But they weren't quick enough.

"The rain, it just blanketed the island," Cruz said, his eyebrows furrowing.

The seas were getting rough, so he tried to call 911, but his cellphone died. Flores grabbed a safety flare and fired it into the sky, but the rain masked the signal.

The two men only had enough time to grab a pair of life jackets before being swept into the water.

The sun was getting ready to set. They wouldn't be rescued for about another five hours.

The boat, now upside down, still was with them, but it wouldn't be for long. Flores dove under the boat and managed to grab another life jacket and a flashlight -- two vital pieces of equipment that ended up saving their lives.

The pair drifted along, hanging onto the bottom of the boat.


The long, cold night ahead wasn't their only concern. There was another thing to worry about: sharks.

They were afraid that the boat cooler, filled with the catch of the day, would burst open, spilling fish and blood into the ocean.

"I have a great fear of sharks," Cruz said.

To make things worse, it was getting darker.

Flores started swimming toward a buoy, hoping to tether it with a fishing line connected to the boat, but no matter how hard he tried to reach it, he couldn't get there.

Cruz already was losing sight of his friend in the dim light.

"My first thought was we can't separate," Cruz said. "We have to stick together. We have to stick together."

He ditched the boat and swam for the other man. Then they were boatless.

The pair tied their life jackets together, and tried to swim toward the buoy together.

"No matter how hard we swam, we weren't getting nowhere," Cruz said. "But we couldn't give up. We had to keep going. We had to stay alive for as long as we can."

They fought through exhaustion, giving each other pep talks: Don't quit. We're almost there. Don't quit.

"The thoughts that go through your mind are, 'Are we going to live? Are we going to die? Are they going to find us?' and, 'This can't be happening,'" Cruz said.

Cruz didn't give up hope. From his boating days with his father, he'd learned to have a safety plan. Every time he goes fishing, he tells his fiance Pamela Gumabon where he's going and when he'll be back. He even calls to tell her if plans change.

As the evening wore on, he checked his watch, knowing that by now Gumabon would have called the authorities.

Around 9:30 p.m., more setbacks. Flores was stung by a jellyfish, and nearly dragged the pair under from the pain. Cruz's life jacket tore apart, and he had to put on the spare that Flores had rescued from the boat earlier. Cruz stuffed the foam from his old life jacket under his shirt to help keep him afloat.

All the while the two kept paddling.

Then, at 11 p.m., rescue came.

Flores waved the light excitedly, pointing the beam at their rescuers.

The rescue boat turned on their spotlight.

"That's how we knew they spotted us," Cruz said.

The fire department launched the search after finding that Cruz and Flores' vehicles still were parked at the Hagta boat basin, said GFD spokesman Lt. Ed Artero.

Lt. Phil Ennis, firefighter II Mike Kono, and firefighter I Miguel Terlaje rescued the two men. Earlier on Saturday they were part of the search for 14-year-old Rayn San Nicolas, who died in waters off Ritidian Point.

"We're lucky," Cruz said. "The fire department told us our families have more chances of winning the lottery than for them to find us. And that's true."

"That ocean is big, man," Flores said. "We were like ants in water."
__________________________________________________ _____________

File a float plan detailing your trip or tell a loved one where you will be going. Carry the proper safety gear and most especially have life jackets that are in good working condition.

I personally try to triple layer safety equipment and benefit from my survival options. Its better to have it and not need it, then to need it and not have it.

A photo of the life jackets are provided in the link above.

K38 Rescue
08-11-2012, 08:14 PM
Great to hear they were rescued, what a bad situation. You never think it will be you......
Preparation is the key.