(MIAMI) — Lieutenants Justin Doughtery and Riley Beecher may not think of themselves as heroes, but to three Cuban nationals, they are exactly that, as the U.S. Coast Guard notices more and more people trying to cross from Cuba to Florida.
Dougherty and Beecher are members of the Coast Guard team in Clearwater, FL. Recently, while on routine patrol, USCG officials told the Florida Sun-Sentinel that they spotted a small group waving a white flag on a deserted island in the Bahamas known as Anguilla Cay. They quickly discovered the trio had been stranded there for the past 33 days.
“I’ve been flying for 3.5 years in Miami and been all over the Caribbean and I’ve never heard of anyone having a case where people have been stranded for this amount of time,” said Beecher.
Given the vast area of patrol for the Coast Guard Miami crew, he says it’s a minor miracle they were even spotted. The 7th District Coast Guard has an area of coverage that stretches from South Florida to South Carolina, then to Puerto Rico and along the Bahamian chain of islands, or roughly 1.7 million square miles.
The survivors — two men and a woman — were forced to swim for their lives one day in early January after their boat capsized in rough seas. They were forced to live on coconuts and rats for the past few weeks and likely wouldn’t have survived much longer due to a lack of freshwater. Survivalists will tell you that in extreme situations, a person can rely on coconuts for hydration and nutrition (a single coconut can provide most or all of an average person’s required daily caloric intake) but it is not a long-term solution, and according to Beecher, their time was running out.
Unfortunately, stories of boats capsizing and people needing to be rescued is not a new one for the Coast Guard in South Florida. Authorities have already noticed an uptick in people fleeing Cuba for U.S. shores. Typically though, it’s not migrants but average boaters who venture out too far that need rescuing. But Beecher admits, stories like these reflect extremely desperate situations not far from U.S. shores.
“Obviously, it’s difficult circumstances that cause people to put their lives in harm’s way, especially making voyages across vast expanses of ocean.”
Still, it’s an incredible survival tale, and one Doughtery, who has done rescues at sea before, says he won’t soon forget.
“I’ve never seen anything like this. I’ve flown a little over 2,000 hours and I’ve never seen something close to this.”