A trio of fishermen who floated for 28 hours in shark-infested waters in the Gulf of Mexico met their rescuers in an emotional reunion on NBC’s “Today” show on Wednesday.
The ordeal of Luan Nguyen, Phong Le and Son Nguyen began on the morning of Oct. 8 when their boat, which was tied to a nearby oil rig, started sinking off the coast of Empire, Louisiana, due to large waves.
The three friends immediately grabbed their life vests and created a makeshift with ice chests. At first, they swam toward the oil rig to make a distress call on Phong’s phone.
However, after failing to call for help, they ended up floating for the rest of the day and into the night, fending off sharks and jellyfish in the darkness.
At one point, a shark hit one of their life vests and apparently ate half of it.
“The shark hit the life vest, and I tried to push him off. He wouldn’t go away so I jabbed him in his eyes,” Luan told “Today.” “[I] put my thumbs in his eyes, and he took off. I got a couple scars, but you know…”
The next day, Phong – whose phone had 5% battery left – tried one last time to make a distress call. He managed to catch a signal after swimming toward a random boat that sped off in the opposite direction.
Phong quickly texted a message explaining their situation, as well as a screen shot of their location, to a friend. Later, they learned that the U.S. Coast Guard had begun looking for them after a family member reported that they had not come home.
The Coast Guard reportedly searched an area about the size of Rhode Island before they located and then rescued the trio. The three friends were taken to University Medical Center in New Orleans and treated for minor injuries, as per WWL-TV.
Tears flowed during the “Today” show on Wednesday as Luan and Phong reunited with three of their rescuers. However, Son, who was still recovering from his injuries at the time, could not be present.
The rescuers include Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Keefe, who led the effort in the command center; Lt. Katy Caraway, who co-piloted the helicopter that lifted the men from the water; and seaman Andrew Stone, who was among those who directly rescued Luan and Son from the water.
“I just remember him picking me up, pulling me out [of] the water,” Luan told “Today” of Stone. “It was like, ‘Wow, made it.’”
“These peoples’ will to survive and their life jackets is what saved their lives,” Caraway told the Associated Press in a recent interview. “I’d say this was a rescue for the books for all of us.”
Featured Image via U.S. Coast Guard Heartland (left) and Today (right)