Three teenage boys who spent 50 days adrift in a tiny boat in the South Pacific Ocean have walked ashore after a chance rescue sparked celebrations on their home island hundreds of miles away.
The trio – Samuel Pelesa and Filo Filo, both 15, and Edward Nasau, 14 – told rescuers they survived on rainwater they collected, a handful of coconuts, raw fish and a seagull that landed on their 12ft aluminium boat.
The boys went missing after setting off on October 5 from their home island to one nearby. Although it is not known how they went missing, it is thought their outboard motor may have broken down at sea.
Worried family members reported them missing and the New Zealand air force launched a sea search. No sign of the tiny boat was found, and the village of 500 people held memorial services, expecting never to see the boys again.
They were picked up on Wednesday by a fishing trawler, undernourished, severely dehydrated and badly sunburned, but otherwise well. The ship’s first mate said the area they were in is away from normal commercial shipping routes.
They drifted 800 miles from where they set out: Tokelau, a series of coral atolls north of Samoa within New Zealand’s territory.
A Fiji navy patrol boat met the trawler on Friday and escorted it into Suva. The teens were met by New Zealand consular officials and taken directly to a hospital for medical checks. Looking thin, the three walked off the boat without speaking to reporters.
After the rescue, one of the boys managed to reach his grandmother by phone from the fishing boat. As news of their survival spread, the village erupted in joy.
“It’s a miracle, it’s a miracle,” said Tanu Filo, the father of Filo Filo. “The whole village, they were so excited and cried and they sang songs and were hugging each other in the road. Everybody was yelling and shouting the good news,” he told Radio New Zealand International.
Officials said the boys reported having just two coconuts with them when they set out. During their ordeal, they drank rainwater that collected in the boat and ate fish they had caught – also managing to feed on a sea bird that landed on the boat.