When the fishermen found the couple floating in the sea off Hallandale Beach in Florida, they were skeptical at first about their story. With past stories of piracy and of boaters being tricked, they were wary. But after seeing the couple's condition and hearing their story, they realised they were part of an extraordinary rescue.
Drift line from Key Largo to Hallandale Beach, some 80 miles north, in 13 hours
The couple, Sean McGovern, 49, of Key Largo and Mellisa Morris, 51, of Texas, had lived through 13 harrowing hours of floating and swimming after both falling off their boat - in an incident they have not described - without life jackets. The strong current of the Gulf Stream took them steadily northwards from where they had fallen overboard off Key Largo, some eighty miles south.
Just before 7 a.m. birds flew above them and unknowingly became their key to being found. Four fishermen, seven miles offshore, saw the birds, and, like many fishermen, figured it was a sign that fish were in the water, so went to investigate.
What they found wasn't the catch they were looking for — instead of fish, they pulled Morris and McGovern out of the water, dehydrated and shivering from their journey. After seeing the fishing boat, McGovern hoisted his shirt above his head and held onto Morris, who was becoming very weak.
'The woman couldn't even walk,' one of the fishermen, Steve Couch, said. 'Her legs were like sticks. They couldn't even bend.'
McGovern told the fishermen that Morris was visiting him from Texas, and they were cruising on McGovern's yacht at around 6.00pm when they fell overboard.
Officials haven't said why the couple, who weren't wearing life jackets, fell from the back of the boat.
'I don't know what they were doing when they fell over, but they must've been having a good time,' Couch said.
In addition to Couch, with the fishermen were two off-duty Broward sheriff's detectives, Adam White and Josh Webb, and, amazingly firefighter/paramedic Keith Silvas.
'It was a strange thing,' Couch said. 'My first thought was, 'How did you get out here?'
When the men pulled the swimmers out of the water, they said the couple were pruned from head to toe and dehydrated.
Morris was in such bad shape, she wasn't even swimming when their boat pulled up, Silvas said. Her legs were so cramped and her body so weak, the men had to pull her into the boat and Webb gave her his long-sleeved navy blue shirt.
Webb said the couple were quiet about their journey, but shared some details about their survival.
'That's a good float — from Key Largo to here,' Webb said. 'I couldn't believe it. She was telling us they were trying to fight to stay close to the shore. She was hanging onto his feet to stay together at night.'
The couple used light from the coastline as their guide, Morris told them. McGovern would nod off to sleep in the night while floating, and she would shake him awake, Morris told the fishermen.
When the Coast Guard arrived, it verified the two were U.S. citizens and gave them medical aid.
Paramedic Keith Silvas, who was able to offer his skills before the Coast Guard arrived, said he has been trained specifically to care for people left out at sea or who are in need of a water rescue. He said he didn't know how much longer the couple could've made it floating in open water.
After the Coast Guard took the couple to shore, friends picked them up, the Coast Guard said.