Missing boaters talk about being lost at sea

August 30, 2009 8:53:20 PM PDT
Three boaters who were missing in the Gulf of Mexico for eight days are now back on solid ground. They survived after clinging to their capsized boat.. The Coast Guard had given up the search for the missing men, but they were spotted by another boater Saturday night.

The men disappeared on August 22 during a fishing trip and were reported missing that afternoon. As we reported Saturday night, they were found about 180 miles off the coast from Port Aransas.

"At approximately 8:20 Saturday evening, we had a call from a good Samaritan whose boat's name is Affordable Fantasy and they noticed the three men. Their boat was overturned and they were resting on top of the hull of their overturned boat. They were scooped up and are being transported safely to shore," said Petty Officer 3rd Class Renee Aiello.

Tressel Hawkins says he and his friends are still recuperating from their ordeal at sea. They are very appreciative of the man who saved them. That man happened to be passing by on a luxury yacht and he captured the moments after the rescue on his personal video camera.

After more than week lost at sea, three friends from Matagorda County dissolved into fits of laughter. Tressel Hawkins says they couldn't help it, they were thankful they had survived.

"We were just hugging each other. We'd been through so much of an ordeal. We were just celebrating," said Hawkins.

This home video shows the men in the hours after their rescue and even breaking the news to loved ones that they were alive and safe.

"I'll be home sometime late, late tonight," said survivor James Phillips on a cell phone to family members.

Hawkins says he, Phillips and Curtis Hall, were spending the night at sea on Phillips' fishing boat when he woke up to find it taking on water quickly.

"Once I put my leg down and the water actually reached up to my knee, I just kind of jumped up and tried to wake everybody up," said Hawkins.

Their boat capsized and they survived by sharing crackers and chewing gum.

"We jumped ship and next thing you know, everything was floating in the water," said Hawkins. "We knew automatically it would be a survival test."

They survived for eight days until Corpus Christi car dealer Eddie Yaklin found them sitting on the hull of their boat Saturday night, just hours after the U.S. Coast Guard had called off its search.

"Somebody's standing up there flagging a white flag and it turned out it was a t-shirt," said Yaklin.

Within minutes, they were aboard Yaklin's 58-foot luxury yacht, where after rationing crackers for a week, they got to indulge in a steak dinner the crew happened to be cooking.

On Sunday, despite some sunburn and several sores, the men say they are doing well, just happy to be home.

"It feels great to be on solid ground actually," said Hawkins.

Their family and friends and just about everyone in their hometowns told us they never gave up on their safe return. When the men were found alive, the small town of Blessing began counting their own.

At the Blessing Hotel Coffee Shop, the good news fanned out with Helen's sweet pecan pie.

"When I came down here awhile ago, this is how I found out about it - over pie and coffee," said Blessing resident Mary Bell. The boys, as Helen calls them, ate here two days before heading out on their fishing trip.

"That's the last time I saw them," said Helen.

John Crain last saw the guys Wednesday when he turned down the invitation to go fishing with them.

"I know it was probably scary as hell. I wouldn't want to deal with it for sure. I mean, there's nothing out there. Just blue water. That's it," said Crain.

Back at the café, while some of her favorite regulars are back home, Helen is ready to hear their stories over a slice of heaven and a few extra blessings.

"I know they were thinking about that food the whole time they were out there with no food," said Helen.

We did speak with Curtis Hall on the phone Sunday afternoon. He sounded relieved, as you can imagine, and just wanted to spend the day privately with family and friends. He told me he's going to take the next few days to relax and spend time with his nine-month-old daughter.

The men reportedly dealt with hallucinations and even spotted some sharks while they were at sea. They are still not sure why their boat capsized, but Hawkins says it happened so quickly they scrambled to salvage what they could from the water. He says they did have radios, but couldn't get to them.

The Coast Guard had searched about 86,000 square miles over the past week trying to find the men. That's about the size of the state of Minnesota. All the boaters are expected to be OK after the ordeal.

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