Rescue of Hawaii mariners is great news for worried mom

Joyce Appel of Houston never gave up hope that her daughter, Jennifer, missing in the Pacific Ocean for months, would eventually be found.

On Thursday, Appel, 75, received the phone call for which she had been waiting for five months: The U.S. Navy had rescued her daughter Jennifer Appel and friend Tasha Fuiaba, both of Honolulu, as well as their dogs.

The happy mom said she had answered the phone as she always does, wondering who wanted to sell her something.

But then she heard her daughter's voice on the other end of the line.

"She said, ‘Mom?’ and I said, ‘Jennifer!?’ because I hadn't heard from [them] in like five months," she said. "And she said, ‘Yes, Mom,' and that was really exciting."

The rescued women had departed May 3, intending to sail from Hawaii to Tahiti, Appel said, but her daughter’s phone was lost overboard the first day she was at sea, and she hadn't been able to call since.

Then the women lost their engine in bad weather in late May, but believed they could still reach Tahiti using their sails.

“Various things on her boat broke, the mast broke and the engine wouldn't start when she needed power. So she had several problems that caused her to end up drifting in the ocean," the elder Appel said.

Joyce called the U.S. Coast Guard about a week and half after her daughter left Honolulu, she said. "The Coast Guard, in Hawaii, did a search and rescue effort," she said. "I waited and waited and waited to see when I would hear from her."

In that time, the elder Appel moved and got a new phone number and was worried her daughter wouldn't know where to call. "I knew she didn't even know the phone number here," she said.

"I had hope all along, she is very resourceful and she's curious and as things break she tries to repair them, she doesn't sit and wait for the repairman to get there, so I knew the same thing would be true of the boat."

"I had hope all along ... as things break she tries to repair them, she doesn't sit and wait for the repairman to get there."

- Joyce Appel, mother of rescued mariner Jennifer Appel

The mother said the pair's water purifier had stopped working and they were down to their last gallon of water when Jennifer got it fixed.

Two months into their trip, well after they were scheduled to arrive in Tahiti, the women began making distress calls, but there were no vessels close and they were too far out to sea for the signals to be detected on land.

They told the Navy that they survived because they had packed in a water purifier and enough food for a year, mostly dried goods like oatmeal and pasta.

A photo provided by the Navy shows Fuiaba smiling as a Navy sailor greets her dog, Zeus aboard the USS Ashland.

The women received a medical assessment, food and beds aboard the Navy ship, where they will remain until the next port of call, the Navy said.

"The U.S. Navy is postured to assist any distressed mariner of any nationality during any type of situation," said Cmdr. Steven Wasson, the commanding officer of the USS Ashland.

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PACIFIC OCEAN (Oct. 25, 2017) Sailors help Zeus, one of two dogs who were accompanying two mariners who were aided by the amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland (LSD 48). Ashland, operating in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region on a routine deployment, rescued two American mariners who had been in distress for several months after their sailboat had a motor failure and had strayed well off its original course while traversing the Pacific Ocean. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jonathan Clay/Released)

Sailors help Zeus, one of two dogs who were accompanying two rescued mariners, board the USS Ashland, Oct. 25, 2017.  (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jonathan Clay)

The Navy rescued the women Wednesday after a Taiwanese fishing vessel spotted them about 900 miles southeast of Japan, well off their planned course, and alerted the U.S. Coast Guard.

The USS Ashland arrived early the next day, the Navy said in a statement released Thursday.

"They saved our lives," Jennifer Appel said through the Navy release. "The pride and smiles we had when we saw (a Navy vessel) on the horizon was pure relief."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.