US tourists had swim for hours after vessel sinks off St. Lucia

By Accidents

The fishing trip off the north coast of St. Lucia was planned to last all day, but about 4 hours the problems started. The electric system crackled and popped. A 30-year-old business owner had hard time with a 200-pound marlin in rough seas. Her sister also took part in this adventure. Dan Suski was trying to reel in the fish when water entered the engine room and Dan had to ask for help announcing its location.
As the waves pounded the boat they had chartered from the local company "Reel Irie," more water flooded in. The captain threw life preservers to the Suskis.
"He said, 'Jump out! Jump out!'" Kate Suski recalled in a telephone interview Thursday with The Associated Press.
The Suskis had to jumb into the water with the captain and first mate. Less than five minutes later, the boat was gone(sank).
The group was far away from shore(almost 8miles), and waves more than twice their size tossed them.
"The captain was telling us to stay together, and that help was on its way and that we needed to wait," Kate Suski explained.
The group was expecting help for about an hour, but no one came to rescue them.
"I was saying, 'Let's swim, let's swim. If they're coming, they will find us. We can't just stay here,'" she recalled.
As they began to swim, the Suskis lost sight of the captain and first mate amid the burgeoning swells. Soon after, they also lost sight of land amid the rain.
"We would just see swells and gray," Dan Suski told.
A plane and a helicopter was near the incident, but no one spotted the siblings.
Several hours went by, and the sun began to set.
"There's this very real understanding that the situation is dire," Kate Suski said. "You come face-to-face with understanding your own mortality ... We both processed the possible ways we might die. Would we drown? Be eaten by a shark?"
"Hypothermia?" Dan Suski asked.
"Would our legs cramp up and make it impossible to swim?" the sister continued.
They swam for 12 to 14 hours, talking as they pushed and shivered their way through the ocean. Dan Suski tried to ignore images of the movie "Open Water" that kept popping into his head and its story of a scuba-diving couple left behind by their group and attacked by sharks. His sister informed she also couldn't stop thinking about sharks.
"I thought I was going to vomit I was so scared," she told.
When they were 30 feet of land, they realized they couldn't get out of the water.
"There were sheer cliffs coming into the ocean," she continue. "We knew we would get crushed."
Dan Suski explained his thoughts that they should try to reach the shore anyway, but his sister did not share the same opinion.
Kate Suski did not believe that they will survive.
They swam until they spotted a spit of sand nearby. When they got to land, they collapsed, barely able to walk. It was past midnight, and they didn't notice any homes in the area.
Dan told Kate that their first priority was to stay warm.
They hiked inland and lay side by side, pulling up grass and brush to cover themselves and stay warm. Kate Suski had only her bikini on, having shed her sundress to swim better. Dan Suski had gotten rid of his shorts, having recalled a saying when he was a kid that "the best-dressed corpses wear cotton."
They heard a stream nearby but decided to wait until daylight to determine whether the water was safe to drink.
As the sun came up, they began to hike through thick brush, picking up bitter mangoes along the way and stopping to eat green bananas.
"It was probably the best and worst banana I've ever had," Dan Suski said.
Some 3 hours later, they saw a young farm worker passing with his dog. He fed them crackers, gave them water and waited until police arrived, the Suskis announced.
"We asked if he knew anything about the captain and mate," Kate Suski said. "He said he had seen the news the night before and they hadn't been found at that time. I think we felt a sense of tragedy that we weren't prepared for."
The Suskis were sent to the hospital and received IV fluids, with doctors concerned they couldn't draw blood from Kate Suski's arm because she was so dehydrated. They also learned that the captain and mate were rescued after spending nearly 23 hours in the water, noting that their relatives called and took care of them after the ordeal.
St. Lucia's tourism minister called it a miracle, and the island's maritime affairs unit trying to find out what was the reason their ship to sink. Marine Police Sgt. Finley Leonce explained that they have already questioned the captain, and that police did not suspect foul play or any criminal activity in the sinking of the boat.
A man who answered the phone Thursday at the "Reel Irie" company declined to comment except to say that he's grateful everyone is safe. He said both the captain and first mate were standing next to him but that they weren't ready to talk about the incident.
The brother and sister said they don't blame anyone for the shipwreck.
"We are so grateful to be alive right now," Kate Suski said. "Nothing can sort of puncture that bubble."
Upon returning to their hotel in St. Lucia earlier this week, the Suskis were upgraded to a suite as they recover from cuts on their feet, severe tendonitis in their ankles from swimming and abrasions from the lifejackets.
"It's really been amazing," Dan Suski said. "It's a moving experience for me."
On Saturday, they plan to fly back to the U.S. to meet their father in Miami.
Once a night owl, Kate Suski no longer minds getting up early for flights, or for any other reason.
"Since this ordeal, I've been waking up at dawn every morning," she said. "I've never looked forward to the sunrise so much in my life."