SYDNEY, Australia – A man, his son and his teenage nephew survived for three weeks on squid and rainwater as their boat drifted in choppy waters off the northeastern tip of Australia, police said Wednesday.
John Tabo, 38, his son John, 20, and his nephew Tom, 16, set off from their home on Murray Island in a fiberglass boat on April 17 to pick up members of a rugby team from an island 43 miles away, police said.
But the trio lost their bearings, ran out of fuel and were buffeted by strong winds as a cyclone passed. Murray Island is more than 60 miles from the Australian coast.
After 22 days lost on the water, their boat moved back within range of Murray Island cell-phone service and the Tabos were located Tuesday. Mike Lacey, of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, said a helicopter crew used a winch to lift the trio off their 16-foot boat to safety several miles off the coast of Murray Island.
Inspector Russell Rhodes of Queensland Police said Wednesday that the Tabos had used jerry cans as makeshift paddles and wore metal buckets over their heads to protect themselves from the searing tropical sun.
The officer said the Tabos had switched off their cell phones for extended periods in order to conserve the batteries, until they had enough coverage to inform family members of where they thought they were.
"They've obviously been smart enough to preserve the batteries on these things and yesterday they started generating text messages back to the family members on Murray Island," he said.
"They used everything that they had in the boat to protect themselves from the elements," he said.
"For what they have gone through they are in a reasonable condition, but they have suffered dehydration and lost a lot of weight," Lacey told The Associated Press.
"They were pretty well starved," he said. "All they had to eat was one squid, but they were fortunate that there had been a lot of rain so they were able to gather rainwater."
He said the Tabos had been treated at a medical clinic on their island and allowed to go home.