Navy rescues women, dogs lost at sea for months

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Jennifer Appel waves to rescuers as her dogs run along the boat in this still frame from U.S. Navy video.

U.S. Navy sailors were greeted by barking dogs and blown kisses Wednesday as they pulled alongside two Americans who had been drifting aboard a foundering sailboat for several months.

According to the Navy, Jennifer Appel and Tasha Fuiaba set sail this spring from Honolulu, headed to Tahiti – a 2,700-mile trip south across the Pacific Ocean.  Even when their engine failed in late May, they vowed to press on under sail power alone, believing they could still reach Tahiti.

But two months into their trip – well past the point when they had expected to arrive – they realized they needed help.  They began to send out distress calls and continued radioing for help every day, but no ships were close enough to pick up the transmissions. 

It wasn’t until October 24 that a passing Taiwanese fishing vessel found the pair 900 miles southeast of Japan – some 5,000 miles off course.  The fishing boat radioed their position to Coast Guard Sector Guam, which diverted the USS Ashland to rescue to drifting mariners.

The Ashland caught up with the sailboat Thursday. Video shared by the Navy showed the moment the ship arrived, to the obvious relief of the lost sailors.  The dogs bounded around on deck barking, while Appel waved wildly and blew kisses to the rescuers.

Ashland crew members determined the sailboat was no longer seaworthy and brought Appel and Fuiaba aboard, along with their two dogs.

"I'm grateful for their service to our country,” Appel later said.  “They saved our lives. The pride and smiles we had when we saw [the Ashland] on the horizon was pure relief.”

Once aboard, the women were provided with medical evaluations, food, and a place to stay until the Ashland's next port of call.

Appel said they survived the voyage thanks to the supplies they had brought -- water purifiers and over a year's worth of food, which was mostly dry goods like oatmeal, pasta, and rice. 

For sailors of the Ashland, it was just another day on the job.

"The U.S. Navy is postured to assist any distressed mariner of any nationality during any type of situation," the Navy quoted the ship’s commanding officer, Cmdr. Steven Wasson, as saying in a press release accompanying the video.