The Miami Coast Guard has been patrolling the shores of Florida and Cuba since 1932. Their mission is to assure the safety of people within its reach in case of disasters, to support the environment and to protect the shores of Florida. They do routine patrols with an aircraft and a small crew over the Caribbean down to Cuba. If they see anything out of the ordinary, they have a duty to investigate. Their priority is the safety of the people in need of dire help, they don’t handle migration paperwork or anything of the sort. Their goal is to get people out of danger and on a safe shore. Other institutions step in after that to deal with the situation.
The Coast Guard From Miami Were Highly Experienced
The Miami Coast Guard from Florida has been saving people from disasters, supporting the environment and protecting the shores around Florida and Cuba since 1932. It’s one of the oldest Coast Guard crews in the country.
After three decades of having their station there, they decided to move it up to Opa-locka Executive Airport north of Miami. Since then, there have been countless rescue missions that this crew has participated in, even in 2021.
They Were Known For Saving Lives
We all know that the Miami Coast Guard’s job is to respond to emergencies and save lives. When Hurricane Katrina and the Haiti earthquake happened, the Miami Coast Guard crew was there to help evacuate survivors and to provide much needed medical relief.
But another important task of theirs is to rescue people that are stranded at sea. They do routine patrols and fly over the Atlantic Ocean to check for people in need of help.
On Many Occasions, They Rescued Sailors
1980 was a busy year for the Coast Guard. It’s when the Mariel Boatlift happened, a mass emigration of Cubans to the U.S. after Cuba allowed dissidents to finally leave. Within six months 125,000 Cubans risked their lives to sail to the United States.
During that time, the Miami Coast Guard saved hundreds of human lives who tried to take refuge in the U.S. It’s been 40 years since the Mariel Boatlift.
It All Started With A Routine Patrol
In February 2021, the Miami Coast Guard was off for a routine patrol of the area. They flew from the Florida Keys over to the Bahamas checking for anything out of the ordinary. Lieutenant Riley Beecher was piloting the aircraft and suddenly spotted something strange on an island below.
He’s trained to even spot something unusual 50 feet up in the air. So, the team doubled back and took a closer look at the island.
This Was No Ordinary Island
The island in question was Anguilla Cay, part of Cal Say Banks in the western Bahamas Banks. But unlike other islands in the Bahamas, Anguilla Cay is not a vacation destination. Anguilla Cay consists of three smaller islands, they are covered in swamps, scrubs and some palm trees.
Human life is unsustainable there due to its lack of freshwater. Only animals that live off the swamp live there, such as frogs, turtles, lizards and snakes.
Were There People On That Deserted Island?
In spite of knowing that Anguilla Cay was deserted, they spotted something out of the ordinary below. “They noticed some unusual flags down there, some different colors, so they noticed some orange,” Lieutenant Justin Dougherty later explained.
Not only they made out flags, but also noticed a makeshift cross on one of the islands. These signs were a clear indication that there were people living on Anguilla Cay. Further investigation had to be conducted.
They Had To Double Back
“I thought, ‘Let’s take a closer look.’ I had never seen anything on that island,” Lt. Riley Beecher recalled. He finally made the call to turn around and investigate the orange he was seeing on the island.
If there were actual people on the island, then that meant the situation could be dangerous. It could be similar to the 1980 event where many people got stranded on smaller islands trying to reach the U.S.
Three People Were Stranded On The Island!
When the Coast Guard flew back around, they discovered something jaw dropping. Down at the beach, there were three people signaling at them! There were two men and a woman frantically waving their arms at them.
After confirming their suspicion, they quickly realized these people were in need of help. Who knows how they ended up in Anguilla Cay nor how long they had been stranded there. Soon they would have answers to these questions.
But The Coast Guard Couldn’t Land
The fearless Miami Coast Guard crew flew closer and tried to land on the island. But the weather was not helping. The wind was strong enough to be able to tip them over and strand them there as well. But they did not give up.
Ltd. Beecher came up with an idea. They hovered over as low as they were allowed to, tied a radio to a rope and threw it to the stranded people.
So They Communicated Through Radio
After they sent down the radio, they immediately communicated their story with the Coast Guard crew. “Unfortunately, we didn’t have any fluent Spanish speakers,” Ltd. Beecher said. “But in my broken Spanish, I was able to discern that they were from Cuba and that they needed medical assistance”
They repeated over and over that they had been stranded on the island for 33 days. How they managed to survive so long was a complete mystery.
They Debated Over What To Do
The crew had to think their options through. They couldn’t land due to the wind for their own safety and that of the survivors. The winds could also mean that a storm was coming, and storms in the Bahamas can be fatal for pilots.
After a back and forth with home base, Ltd. Beecher decided to return to Miami. Landing right away was impossible, but they could provide the survivors with some much needed supplies.
The Coast Guard Returned With Aid
The Coast Guard returned to Anguilla Cay on that same day. They brought fresh water, food and medical supplies. This must have been the first time in over a month that these survivors drank fresh water.
They seemed to have no injuries but the Coast Guard couldn’t be too careful. Through the radio, they told them that because of the bad weather conditions they would have to wait until the next day to be rescued.
Meanwhile, They Tweeted The News
Meanwhile, the Miami Coast Guard kept the general public updated through the social media platform Twitter. They tweeted a video of the crew members lowering supplies to the survivors.
“@USCG is assisting 3 people who have reportedly been stranded on Anguilla Cay, Bahamas for 33 days,” the post wrote. “The An Air Station Miami HC-144 Ocean Sentry aircrew has dropped a radio, food and water. More to follow.” The public was invested in the story.
The Survivors Made A Makeshift Tent
As they dropped the supplies, they noticed a makeshift tent the survivors had built. It seemed to be made out of tarps and bags that likely came from the ship in which they initially sailed on. These images were also tweeted.
When people are stranded on a deserted island, they need to guard themselves from the sun since it quickly fatigues, burns and dehydrates them. They made this tent to keep out of the sun.
Finally, They Got Rescued!
Finally, the weather calmed down and the Miami Coast Guard was finally able to rescue the three survivors. A helicopter was brought in to lift the survivors safely. According to aircraft commander Mike Allert, the task only took 30 minutes.
“Our rescue swimmer found them to be fatigued, dehydrated,” Allert later told WPLG-TV. “[They were] showing definite signs of just being out in the elements for the extended amount of time that they were there.”
The Survivors Were Very Grateful
The survivors were very grateful to the crew. “Being out in those harsh elements for a long period of time, they were very happy to see us,” Allert recalled. While interviewed by The Daily Telegraph, Ltd. Dougherty added, “They definitely seemed very relieved. They had lost track of exactly what day it was.”
This meant that the survivors could have been stranded there longer than 33 days. We’ll never know the exact amount of days.
They Were Rushed To The Hospital
The survivors were immediately brought to a hospital to receive care. The Coast Guard took them to the Lower Keys Medical Center in Florida to get them treated and then waited for a report.
In the meantime, the Coast Guard let the public know that the mission was a success near 18:00hs that day. The response from the public was overwhelming, thousands of people rooting for the survivors. They were now in good hands.
The Survivors Were Surprisingly Healthy
At the hospital, the doctors that treated the survivors reported that they were remarkably healthy. They arrived dehydrated and fatigued, but other than that none sustained injuries. It was amazing that they managed to survive without freshwater.
“It was incredible,” said Ltd. Dougherty. “I don’t know how they did it. I am amazed that they were in such good shape when we saw them.” But how did they end up there in the first place?
Here Is How They Got Stranded
While on the helicopter, the survivors told a translator present what had actually happened. After leaving Cuba, a storm appeared and because of the high waves, their boat capsized.
They swam onto Anguilla Cay with nothing but the boat’s debris that floated to shore. For five weeks, they had to survive on a desert island with no food or freshwater.
What They Ate To Survive
Even though there was little food on Anguilla Cay, the survivors managed with what was available. Their diet mainly consisted of rats that roamed the land and conches from the nearby swamps.
The conches could be consumed raw, but the rats had to be cooked if they wanted to avoid getting dysentery. They cooked them over fires they made themselves.
But What Did They Drink?
Due to the lack of freshwater on the island, the survivors lived off of drinking coconut water for 33 days. Fortunately for them, coconuts can be more hydrating than water due to it containing electrolytes that balance water level in the body.
Had there not been palm trees growing on Anguilla Cay, they wouldn’t have had a chance of surviving.
The Few Plants On The Island Likely Saved Them
“At first glance, the island doesn’t seem to have much,” said Ltd. Dougherty. “But there is some shrubbery there and some trees, so they were able to stay out of the elements somewhat.”
In a survival situation, shade is a valuable commodity. Since the Bahamas are so close to the equator, the heat can quickly dehydrate and burn people.
Then, The Survivors Called For Help
Shortly after being stranded, the survivors decided to reach out for help. They put out a few colorful flags that they made themselves. They put them strategically on the beach in hopes someone flying overhead would spot them.
As for the large cross, they put it there to give them faith and hope to get through this ordeal on Anguilla Cay.
Their Chances Of Survival Were Shockingly Low
Surviving on a desert island is much harder than it’s portrayed in movies and TV. In reality, the survival rate for those stranded on a deserted island is less than 10%.
The few inhabited islands left are deserted because they have no freshwater and little to no food just like Anguilla Cay. The survivors were intelligent but also very lucky.
Their Rescue Made The News
The story of the three Cuban survivors went viral thanks to the thousands of people following the rescue mission. It was reported on BBC, ABC, NBC, CBS, The Guardian, Newsweek, Huffpost, Washington Post, and more.
Allert emphasized that the trio was “in dire straits due to a lack of freshwater on the island.” Their survival story was a true miracle.
This Rescue Mission Was Not Easy
Sean Connett, the command duty officer of Coast Guard Seventh District explained to the media that “This was a very complex operation involving assets and crews from different units,”.
And later added, “But thanks to good communication and coordination between command centers and pilots, we were able to safely get everyone to a medical facility before the situation could worsen.”
The Coast Guard Had Never Seen Anything Like This
The Miami Coast Guard crew agreed that this story was indeed very particular. Ltd. Dougherty said, “I cannot recall a time that we saved people who were stranded for over a month on an island. That is a new one for me.”
The crew members who participated in this rescue mission had experienced a once-in-a-lifetime event in their careers.
Why Were The Three Cubans Sailing Anyway?
A lot of people speculated why the trio was sailing in the first place. During an interview with Sun Sentinel, Officer Murray admitted that it was unclear if they were trying to get to the U.S. or somewhere else entirely.
It’s also possible that they were sailing to fish or explore the area and ended up stranded by accident.
But Who Were The Survivors?
The three survivors have never been publicly identified to this day, most likely to preserve their privacy. Not even close-up pictures of their faces have been released, even though a lot of attention was put on their story with all the news coverage.
The stranded island survivors clearly wish to remain anonymous after going through this traumatic ordeal.
The Three Went To Immigration Customs
Where did they go once they were released from the hospital? On Wednesday, only 24 hours after the rescue, the Miami Coast Guard gave some updates on Twitter.
The three people were taken to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency in Pompano Beach, Florida to evaluate their situation. Not much more is known from the case to this day.
According to U.S. Coast Guard, Petty Officer, 2nd Class Brandon Murray, It was not immediately clear whether they were migrants attempting to come to the United States, or if they were just fishermen lost at sea.
Murray said he couldn’t recall a case in which they saved people that had been stranded for more than a month on an island.
What’s next for them
Professor David Abraham from the University of Miami School of Law said the migrants’ status could remain in limbo until the reasons for the rescue or detention get clarified.
It is well known that in the past, some Cubans in similar situations have been detained for months at Immigration and Customs Enforcement centers without being able to obtain a parole.
Based on the federal Cuban Adjustment Act there is a possibility that the three people can be granted permission to stay in the country on humanitarian grounds.
Considering they were brought ashore by the Coast Guard, they could benefit from the 55-year-old law, which allows them to apply for legal permanent residency a year after their arrival and
release into the community.
In 2020, a similar case occurred in the Micronesia archipelago where three men were rescued from the uninhabited Pikelot Island located in the Pacific.
According to the Australian defense department, the men had been missing for nearly three days before the SOS sign they wrote in the sand was spotted from above by joined forces from Australian and U.S. aircraft.
Speaking of similar cases, this isn’t by far the first time the United States Coast Guard had to apprehended Cuban citizens who were later handed over to Bahamian authorities.
While conducting patrols, another group of six Cubans was recently intercepted off Anguilla Cay in the Cay Sal Banks in April. This makes this the fourth group to be detained in recent months.
There are many risks in trying to enter the United States illegally by sea. In general, those who attempt these practices use rustic boats that put not only their lives in danger but also the lives of those who accompany them.
U.S. Embassy Cmdr. Mario Gil, strongly discourages these dangerous and deadly voyages and highlights the legal consequences that are involved.
Records indicate that since the early 1980s, thousands of Cubans have attempted the roughly 100-mile passage from their home country to Florida, either by using crowded fishing boats or makeshift rafts.
In 2019, the Miami Herald reported that Coast Guard agents intercepted more than 450 Cubans as they tried to reach the United States by boat or just after arrival.
The three castaways told the coast guard that their biggest challenge on the island was finding fresh water. By fortune they were able to replace fresh water with the available coconut water.
As the days went by, they also had to face the increasing risk posed by dehydration and fatigue accumulated from being in survival mode for over 4 weeks.
Authorities said that the three Cubans, two of whom are married, were probably attempting to replicate a treacherous sea voyage made by tens of thousands before them.
A mechanical failure was the reason that left them stranded in the Island. Officers will work to determine if these people will be authorized to remain in the country or will face deportation.