HONOLULU – The estranged son of a 67-year-old Hawaii fisherman rescued after 12 days at sea says the ordeal has motivated him to reunite with the man after not speaking to him since the 1990s.
His father, Ron Ingraham, arrived Wednesday on the Hawaiian island of Molokai, where he lives on his boat that was towed to shore by the Coast Guard.
He was found dehydrated and hungry Tuesday after being missing since Thanksgiving, when the Coast Guard picked up his first mayday call. He radioed that he was in danger of sinking nearly 50 miles from the Big Island.
Coast Guard officials sought to contact his next of kin, son Zakary Ingraham, 43, in Missouri. They were unable to reach him until the following Monday, the day they decided to suspend the search.
"It's tough to put into words," Zakary Ingraham said in a phone interview Wednesday from St. Joseph, Missouri, as his father was en route to Molokai.
"You're crushed, and you don't know what to do," he said. "And of course, I'm in Missouri so that made it feel worse I couldn't go out and look for him. It was horrible."
Complicating his feelings was a wave of regret for all the years of lost contact and the fact that his father never met a grandson, 8.
"I always wanted to find him and get in touch with him," Zakary Ingraham said. But his father lives on a boat, subsists off fishing and has no known email address or cellphone number.
"We didn't really have a falling out," the son said. "We just kind of grew apart."
Zakary Ingraham lived in Kealakekua on the Big Island until age 7, when his parents split and he moved to the mainland with his mother.
He recalled pleading with the Coast Guard to extend the search: "I held on to hope. I knew my dad was tough. So I didn't feel like he was gone."
For Coast Guard officials, calling off a search is the hardest choice they have to make, Lt. Scott Carr said.
"You're making a decision to stop searching when you don't have a resolution," he said. "We searched for five days. ... We used every resource we had, and we weren't able to find him."
As the days wore on, Zakary Ingraham resigned himself to accepting his dad was gone.
And then he got a call Tuesday that his father was found.
"At first it didn't register," Zakary Ingraham said. He recalled picturing a floating life jacket on his lifeless father, thinking they must have found him dead.
"They said, 'He's alive,'" he said. "You might as well be on a Broadway show jumping up and clicking your heels, I was so happy."
In the days since, Zakary Ingraham has tried to learn more about his father. He said he reached a fellow Molokai fisherman who told him his dad had set out for the island of Lanai, where he planned to sell his fish.
The Coast Guard had no details yet about what went wrong on Ron Ingraham's boat or how he survived so long at sea.
"To my knowledge he didn't require any medical attention, other than he was tired, hungry and dehydrated," Carr said.
Efforts by The Associated Press to reach Ron Ingraham through the Coast Guard on Wednesday were unsuccessful.
A Navy ship was nearby when the Coast Guard received Ron Ingraham's mayday Tuesday. Crew members from that vessel, guided-missile destroyer USS Paul Hamilton, gave him water and food.
"It's the holidays. We all have family who we love and miss, being here stationed far away from the continental U.S.," Carr said. "Anytime we rescue a mariner is a great day."
Zakary Ingraham said he's trying to get a loan so he can afford to travel to Hawaii to see his father.
"When I see my dad, I'm going to give him a big hug," he said. "I'm going to do everything I can to get out there as soon as possible."
Follow Jennifer Sinco Kelleher at http://www.twitter.com/JenHapa .