Story of adrift sailors begins to sink

This might be the only time when reading YouTube comments was illuminating.

From the moment the U.S. Navy posted video of Jennifer Appel and Tasha Fuiava, commenters began noticing things that didn’t add up in their story of being lost at sea for months after a storm knocked out power, destroying all available methods of communication, leaving them drifting in the Pacific.

It was too movie-like to be believed. And yet, the planet — except for you, YouTube — believed.

Today, the Associated Press went about as far as it could go without declaring them liars.

“We got into a Force 11 storm, and it lasted for two nights and three days,” Jennifer Appel said in an interview last week after their rescue. “And when we got through with that, we were empowered to know that we could withstand the forces of nature, the boat could withstand the forces of nature.”

There was no storm, the National Weather Service says.

Appel and Fuiava had claimed they’d been sending out distress signals. But they acknowledged to the Associated Press that they never turned an emergency beacon on because they didn’t think they were in a life-threatening situation, a statement that contradicts other statements they uttered after their rescue that there were times they didn’t know if they’d survive 24 hours.

The Associated Press added up all their claims, and they don’t check out.

Carr also said the Coast Guard made radio contact with a vessel that identified itself as the Sea Nymph in June near Tahiti, and the captain said they were not in distress and expected to make land the next morning. That was after the women reportedly lost their engines and sustained damage to their rigging and mast.

Experts say some of the details of the women’s story do not add up.

A retired Coast Guard officer who was responsible for search and rescue operations said that if the women used the emergency beacon, they would have been found.

“If the thing was operational and it was turned on, a signal should have been received very, very quickly that this vessel was in distress,” Phillip R. Johnson said Monday in a telephone interview from Washington state.

Emergency Position Indication Radio Beacons, or EPIRBS, activate when they are submerged in water or turned on manually and send a location to rescuers within minutes.

The beacons are solid and built to be suddenly dropped in the ocean. “Failures are really rare,” Johnson said, but added that old and weak batteries also could cause a unit not to work.

It’s not clear if the pair had tested it before the journey.

The women also said they had six forms of communication that all went dead. “There’s something wrong there,” Johnson said.

He knows of cases in remote Alaska where a ship in distress just using one form of beacon brought a fairly quick response from nearby fishing boats and the Coast Guard.

“I’ve never heard of all that stuff going out at the same time,” he said.

The Associated Press says the two also had a working motor after their mast and rigging failed, but they still chose to sail past an inhabitated island.

Appel had also claimed that sharks attacked the hull of the boat while teaching younger sharks how to hunt. Is that how sharks learn to hunt?

[Update: According to CBS News, it’s not:

University of Hawaii professor and veteran shark researcher Kim Holland has never heard of any kind of shark repeatedly attacking a boat hull throughout a night. He also said tiger sharks never jump out of the water and do not make coordinated attacks.

Sometimes sharks will congregate around a food source like a whale carcass, but Holland said that was unlikely in this case “if there’s nothing there to attract the animals. I mean this is just an inert boat hull.”


The AP’s reporting leaves just one big question in the unraveling story: Why would they apparently make it all up?