A search and rescue operation ended successfully for a group of men who were lost at sea for almost eleven hours. Included in the group was Southern Regional Commander, Robert Mariano and a thirteen year old boy. The group set out to fish on Sunday off the coast of Dangriga, but their vessel capsized and they drifted further away. One of the men daringly swam back to shore to alert authorities and in the wee hours of this morning, they were rescued. The ordeal has left the group traumatized. News Five’s Isani Cayetano has a first-hand account of what happened at sea.
Michael Codrington, Survivor, Lost at Sea
“We kissed the ground because you know when you’re out floating in the sea for eleven hours plus, your mind plays tricks on you, you know. There were people that were hallucinating. There were people that were thinking things were in the water that weren’t.”
Isani Cayetano, Reporting
The traumatic experience of remaining partially submerged in choppy water for almost eleven hours, clinging to a capsized vessel for dear life, won’t soon be lost on a group of friends who set out for a Sunday of angling off the coast of Dangriga. The expedition was returning to town from spending the afternoon near Coco Plum Caye when they encountered a turbulent sea state. Michael Codrington, visiting with friends and family in Belize, was on the fishing trip.
“We hit a rogue wave, you know, that wave. The sea wasn’t really that rough out there but the wave kind of hit at an angle that just pushed us over and it was five or six of us, and we ended up having, you know, when I came up from under the water, you know, one person was all the way down the other end and another person was on the other side of the boat, another person was all the way out and we all just swam for the boat and we made it to the boat. I mean, I had my son he’s thirteen, I grabbed him, he was able to miraculously get a life jacket on, I don’t know how but when I saw him I grabbed him and threw him on top of the boat.”
…and that’s where the minor would stay for the entirety of the frightening ordeal; his diminutive body bearing the scrapes and scratches of prolonged exposure to fiberglass.
“There was another gentleman, he could not swim and he had a life jacket on. All the other life jackets for some reason came off of us. They floated away. Everything just flew out of the boat, I mean there was no way we could [get to them]. The current was so strong it was just taking everything, you know. We made bailers out of gas cans, we cut gas cans. I usually have a knife, the knife, some kind of way, dislodged from my pants and I mean I just went into survival mode and I started cutting pants. A gentleman had a backpack and we started, I started cutting the straps of the backpacks and hooking it on a hinge that was on the boat so we could hold on because I knew that we weren’t going to get rescued before nightfall.”
Adrift for several hours without contact with other vessels in the area, the group was lost at sea. Geographically speaking, Coco Plum Caye is located eight miles off the coast of Dangriga. One of the men, a seasoned fisherman, was prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice. He made a bold attempt at swimming towards mainland in an effort to notify authorities.
“We just decided to stick together and hold on. It started to get dark and the guy said that he could swim and he could make it and because we had two life vests we decided to take a chance and gave him one of the two life vests. The gentleman was kind enough to give him a life vest who could not swim and he still took off his life vest and gave it to the gentleman to try to help because we saw boats in the area, they just couldn’t see us. Debris was in the water all over the place, gas, oil, it was in everybody’s eyes. It was on everybody’s skin. We had probably two or three five-gallon drums with gas in them and they just flew everywhere. So we gave the guy the life vest and he swam like a mad man.”
While other members of the party have opted to remain anonymous, News Five understands that among them was Southern Regional Commander Robert Mariano. The career police officer wasn’t available for interview. According to his colleagues at the local precinct, police and coastguard assets were deployed into the area in a massive search and rescue effort.
“My wife actually went out and started to ask people who own boats to just please, you know, and I think it might have been five or six boats, you know. We started to see lights but by that time the current had already brought us in close to Mr. Thomas’ residence by Sue Beach and we were testing for shallow, seeing how deep we were because, you know, a lot of us were getting tired. My son was getting very hungry and we were sticking together to try to paddle and push towards land and ten hours later we started seeing a beach and we started to just pray… and we did a lot of praying, a lot of praying and then I think that’s what kept us strong, you know. God Almighty was there. It seemed like that moonlight followed us, it was a full moon last night and everywhere we were that moon was right above and it acted like a light and it was just as bright as the sun and we were able to see everything like it was broad daylight.”
Fortunately, the men were later rescued not far from here, an area in town known as Sue Beach. Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.