News and Commentary

Is Story Of Two Sailors Allegedly Adrift For 5 Months Starting To Unravel?

Something is rotten in Denmark.

Or Japan, anyway, where the two women from Hawaii who claim they were lost at sea for five months have wound up.

Jennifer Appel and Tasha Fuiava — who had never sailed before setting off on a 5,000-mile trip — have told authorities that they were adrift after their engine broke on a trip from Hawaii to Tahiti. They were eventually rescued by the U.S. Navy some 900 miles east of Japan.

But now it turns out the pair had an emergency beacon on the boat and never activated it. Had they done so, their position would have been immediately sent to authorities, who would have been dispatched to rescue them.

The sailors had an EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon), which works by “transmitting a coded message on the 406 MHz distress frequency via satellite and earth stations to the nearest rescue coordination center,” according to

Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Scott Carr told the Associated Press that their review of the incident showed they had an EPIRB.

Jennifer Appel confirmed in an interview Tuesday that they had the beacon and did not use it. She said that in her experience, it should be used only when you are in imminent physical danger and going to die in the next 24 hours.

“Our hull was solid, we were floating, we had food, we had water, and we had limited maneuverable capacity,” Appel said in Japan, where the U.S. Navy took them after they were rescued by a Navy ship. “All those things did not say we are going to die. All that said, it’s going to take us a whole lot longer to get where we’re going.”

The women also say their boat was damaged in a heavy storm when they were off the coast of Hawaii at the beginning of their trip. But “key elements of the women’s account are contradicted by authorities, and are not consistent with weather reports or basic geography of the Pacific Ocean,” the AP reported.

On their first day at sea, the two women described running into a fierce storm that tossed their vessel with 60 mph (97 kph) winds and 30-foot (9-meter) seas for three days, but meteorologists say there was no severe weather anywhere along their route during that time.

After leaving “we got into a Force 11 storm, and it lasted for two nights and three days,” Appel has said of the storm they encountered off Oahu. In one of the first signs of trouble, she said she lost her cellphone overboard.

“We were empowered to know that we could withstand the forces of nature,” Appel said. “The boat could withstand the forces of nature.”

But the National Weather Service in Honolulu said no organized storm systems were in or near Hawaii on May 3 or in the days afterward. Archived NASA satellite images confirm there were no tropical storms around Hawaii that day. Appel expressed surprise that there was no record of the storm. She said they received a Coast Guard storm warning while sailing after sunset on May 3.

Something’s fishy.