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7 survive 20 hours clinging to boat, cooler

By Associated Press
October 11, 2011

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MARATHON, Fla. - Four hours into a family fishing trip, rough waves flipped a 22-foot boat off the Florida Keys, tossing eight people overboard. Seven of them, including a 4-year-old girl, survived by clinging desperately to their capsized vessel and a small blue cooler for almost 20 hours, suffering exhaustion, jellyfish stings, and hypothermia.

A 79-year-old woman, the matriarch, was missing and presumed drowned.

Those rescued were taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

“When the will to live kicks in, human beings can do amazing things,’’ Coast Guard Petty Officer Nick Ameen said.

The family left Layton in the Middle Keys around 8 a.m. Saturday to go fishing in less-than-ideal conditions. It was raining, seas topped 7 feet, and winds were whipping up to 38 miles per hour. After they anchored 3½ miles off the island chain, two waves hit suddenly, capsizing the vessel.

The women grabbed the girl and the cooler. One man tried to rescue his mother, but she slipped through his grasp and disappeared into the water. The two groups - the three women and girl and three men - drifted apart.

Nearly a day later, they were rescued when a commercial fisherman spotted the men Sunday morning and alerted the Coast Guard, which found the women and the blue cooler several miles away.

The women said the boat turned over so quickly there was no time to grab life jackets for anyone except the child.

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