In the open waters off the coast of St. Lucia in the Caribbean Sea, siblings Dan and Kate Suski were fishing for blue marlin last Sunday. Dan Suski had a 200-pound fish on the line and was attempting to bring it in when the ship’s electrical system malfunctioned. According to the Associated Press, he was still trying to land the marlin when water inundated the ship’s cabin and engines. The captain quickly sent out a distress call and equipped the Suskis with life preservers. The ship was only crewed by one other sailor, the first mate. Together, the four jumped into the water just minutes before the boat sank.
Struggling to stay within sight of each other amidst the high waves, the swimmers faced a difficult decision. Roughly eight miles from shore and in rough waters, the captain advised that the group stay where they were and wait for help to arrive. The Suskis agreed at first.
After an hour of drifting and with no sign of imminent rescue, patience was wearing thin.
“I was saying, ‘Let’s swim, let’s swim. If they’re coming, they will find us. We can’t just stay here,”’ Katie Suski told the Associated Press.
Swimming in the direction of shore, the Suskis became separated from the captain and first mate by the waves. The sky darkened and eventually they lost their own bearings, no longer sure which direction to swim towards. Aircraft flew overhead but none responded to the siblings’ calls.
“There’s this very real understanding that the situation is dire,” Kate Suski said. “You come face-to-face with understanding your own mortality. […] We both processed the possible ways we might die. Would we drown? Be eaten by a shark?”
The waters were known to contain shark, but a more likely threat was that the two would simply tire out and succumb to deadly muscle cramps. For 14 hours, sometimes in the dark and always in the cold waters, the brother and sister swam towards what they hoped was land. Throughout the journey they imagined sharks from the movies they have seen or other dangers lurking in the water.
Finally, they spotted land. It was not what they hoped for. The two had swam towards a portion of rocky cliffs being battered by waves. If they approached, the current would sweep them up and smash them against the stones, yet they could see no way around.
Dan Suski wanted to risk a landing but his sister disagreed.
“We won’t survive that,” she said.
In the end they swam a bit longer until they spotted a narrow beach. Coming ashore, the two shivered and keeping warm was a major priority. They gathered grass and leaves as makeshift cover and waited for daybreak.
They were discovered by a farm worker several hours later and after a short hike. Both siblings were transported to a nearby hospital and treated for dehydration. They later discovered that the captain and first mate also survived, but were in the water for a much longer 23 hours.
“We are so grateful to be alive right now,” Kate Suski said. “Nothing can sort of puncture that bubble.”