Nine months ago, Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos took a boat out from Florida and never came back.
The pair’s tragic story continues to fascinate the country, as seemingly all “lost at sea” stories do. There’s a primal element at stake in these tragic tales: The unstoppable power and mystery and of the ocean and our continued fascination with exploring it, despite knowing full well the dangers.
Below, read twelve chronicles of people lost at sea who survived against the odds, their stories captivating the nation.
Tami Oldham Ashcraft
Ashcraft was 23 years old and an experienced sailor who had been cruising in the South Pacific with her fiancé, Richard Sharp, for six months in 1983. They took a job delivering a 44-foot-yacht from Tahiti to San Diego, but less than three weeks into the journey, the pair was caught in the 40-foot waves and 140-knot winds of Hurricane Raymond.
Mid-storm, Sharp told Ashcraft to head below deck to rest. She heard him scream, and was knocked unconscious when the boat jerked violently and sent her careening into the cabin wall. On Oct. 13, 1983, she awoke to calm skies and catastrophe: Sharp’s safety line was empty, the ship’s masts were snapped, and the ship’s engine, radio, navigation system and emergency locator were all destroyed.
Ashcraft managed to put together a makeshift rail, pump water from the half-filled cabin and spent 41 days navigating her way to safety using a sextant and watch. Her 1,500-mile journey, which ended in safety in Hilo, Hawaii, was documented in her book Red Sky in Mourning.
Troy Driscoll and Josh Long
Driscoll, 15, and Long, 17, were pulled out to sea off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina, and spent the next six days at sea, eating jellyfish and drinking rainwater to survive. “Please, help me get out of here or kill me,” Josh recalled Troy telling him. Eventually, they were spotted by fishermen and rescued. Long lost 30 pounds in six days, and Driscoll was hospitalized with second-degree burns from the sun exposure.
William and Simone Butler
The Butlers‘ boat was attacked by whales while 1,200 miles off the coast of Costa Rica in 1989. The couple (William, 60, and Simone, 52) grabbed a portable salt-water purifier and fishing rods before abandoning their boat for a rubber life raft. For 66 days, they fished and used the desalinator to survive, continually patching their raft where it sustained puncture wounds from shark attacks. The pair were using an early version of the appropriately-named Survivor desalinator – previous desalinators were huge motorized systems, and the model they used was designed just a year before their ordeal.
In 1983, Callahan had crossed the Atlantic solo on a 21-foot craft. On his return trip, he ran into a storm and was forced to abandon his boat and take to a six-foot rubber life raft. For the next 76 days, he survived on fish and rainwater across 1,800 nautical miles. He turned 30 while on his raft, and 30 years later, was asked by Ang Lee to serve as a consultant on his own lost-at-sea film, an adaptation of Yann Martel’s Life of Pi.
Salvador Ordonez, Jesus Vidana and Lucio Rendon
The three Mexican fishermen said they were fishing off Mexico’s Pacific Coast in late October 2005 when their engines broke down one by one and they drifted out to sea. For the next nine months, they survived with little more than a rudimentary fishing rod, a Bible and a few blankets. Two of their companions died during the journey, and they tossed their bodies overboard rather than succumb to the temptation to eat them. Rescued by a Japanese trawler, they returned to Mexico to a curious mix of celebration and adulation. Many questioned how they could have survived such an ordeal and arrived in decent shape; the three repeatedly chalked up their survival to God.
Okene, a cook on a tugboat that capsized off the coast of Nigeria in July 2013, survived for 60 hours at the bottom of the ocean by finding an air pocket in the shipwreck. He subsisted on a bottle of Coke for the duration of his stay in the depths, and the video of his rescue became a massive viral phenomenon when it was posted to LiveLeak.com.
Jordan, 37, took off from South Carolina in January 2015, on a fishing trip. Bad weather capsized his boat and snapped the mast. He was reported missing on Jan. 29 and found 66 days later, still clinging to his capsized boat. Jordan chalked up his survival to the same trinity as several other survivors: Fish, rainwater and the Bible.
Samu Perez, Filo Filo and Edward Nasau
The three teens, 14 and 15 years old between them, were reported missing from the Atafu atoll near the New Zealand-administered Tokelau Islands in October 2010. They had a store of coconuts on their small aluminum boat, and managed to catch a sea bird, but otherwise were dependent on rainwater they collected in a tarp for sustenance. After 50 days adrift in the Pacific, they were rescued by a tuna boat.
Abby Sunderland was trying to become the youngest person to sail around the world solo in 2010. On the 138th day of that journey, her boat was struck by a 40-foot wave, leaving her stranded in the Indian Ocean. She was rescued after three days, and in 2011, told PEOPLE, “I’m still going to sail around the world one day.”
Burkett, 16, was vacationing on Utila island off the coast of Honduras in 2013 when she chartered a boat to the island of Roatan. On the group’s return trip to Utila, they drifted off course – it was never determined whether it was a gas shortage or mechanical problem that was to blame – and they were found by the U.S. Coast Guard four days later, adrift in the ocean. Nine people were rescued from the vessel, which was not equipped with a rescue beacon.
Jose Salvador Alvarenga
Alvarenga is the only man known to have survived for over a year at sea. He set out for a fishing trip in November 2012 and washed up 438 days later on the Marshall Islands. Claiming to have subsisted on birds, turtles and and rainwater, Alvarenga was later sued by the family of his companion, Ezequiel Cordoba, who died during the ordeal. The family alleged that Alvarenga ate Cordoba to stay alive.