Thursday, November 26, 2015         

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Family rescued after 5 days adrift

By Rosemarie Bernardo


A family of four, including 7- and 8-year-old children, survived on fruits and vegetables for five days after drifting out to sea between islands in Kiribati when the engine on their 13-foot boat died.

The U.S. Coast Guard and the New Zealand air force rescued the family Friday about 230 miles from Butaritari Atoll.

"They were mildly dehydrated, malnourished and sunburned," said Cmdr. Mark Morin of the 14th Coast Guard District, based at Sand Island. "Overall, their health was pretty good considering the amount of time they were drifting on the boat."

On Oct. 31 the family, which is from Butaritari, was traveling between Ukiangang and Tikurere, two small islands about 6.5 miles apart, to trade produce for fish. On their way back home, the engine on their aluminum skiff died, the Coast Guard said.

The family - two adults, ages 53 and 54, and their two children - survived on fruits and vegetables while they drifted out to sea, according to the Coast Guard.

Due to the lack of phones, word in Kiribati of the family's engine problems took days to reach local authorities, the Coast Guard said.

On Thursday the Kiribati Maritime Police Branch called the Coast Guard for assistance. Coincidentally, the 378-foot cutter Rush was conducting fisheries enforcement in the area, about 2,300 miles southwest of Hawaii.

The Coast Guard worked with the New Zealand air force, using technology to determine the likely drift pattern of the boat and plan the search.

"We compared both of our drift models before we assigned our search areas and the vessel," Morin said. "It helped with the accuracy of the search."

The cutter, with an HH-65 Dolphin helicopter aboard, traveled throughout the night and arrived at the scene Friday morning.

A New Zealand four-engine turboprop aircraft spotted the skiff that day about 46 miles northwest of the cutter. The Coast Guard launched a small boat that transported the family from the skiff to the cutter just before sunset.

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