A brother and sister fishing off the coast of St. Lucia were forced to swim in the shark-infested Caribbean for 14 hours after their boat sank.
Dan Suski, 30, is a business owner and information technology expert from San Francisco. On April 21, Dan was fishing with his sister Kate Suski, a 39-year-old architect from Seattle, just 8 miles from the shore.
As Dan attempted to boat a 200-pound marlin with Kate’s help, the choppy sea flooded onto the deck, into the cabin, and inundated the engine room.
The captain radioed for help, broadcasting the boat’s coordinates. Then, just four hours into the trip, the boat sank. Dan, Kate, the boat’s captain and the first mate ended up in the water. They waited for an hour expecting help to arrive.
"The captain was telling us to stay together, and that help was on its way and that we needed to wait,” Kate said. "I was saying, 'Let's swim, let's swim. If they're coming, they will find us. We can't just stay here'."
As Dan and Kate swam towards shore, they lost sight of land and the captain and first mate due to the sea swell and rain.
"We would just see swells and gray," Dan said.
Hours passed. A helicopter hovered above them, but did not find the siblings before nightfall.
"There's this very real understanding that the situation is dire," Kate 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?"
"Hypothermia?" Dan asked.
"Would our legs cramp up and make it impossible to swim?" Kate added.
The pair shivered and swam 12 to 14 hours. Dan said he tried to put ignore scenes that kept coming to mind from the movie “Open Water” about a couple abandoned on a scuba diving expedition who get attacked by sharks.
"I thought I was going to vomit I was so scared," she said.
Once they came within 30 feet of land, they were confronted with inhospitiable cliffs. "There were sheer cliffs coming into the ocean," she said. "We knew we would get crushed." Dan wanted to try to reach the rocks, but his sister told him, "We won't survive that.”
They swam until they spotted sand and then approached the shore. On land, the pair could barely walk. It was after midnight and they did not see any homes in the area.
"Dan said the first priority was to stay warm," Kate recalled.
Kate wore nothing but a bikini, having taken off her sundress to swim better.
Dan removed his shorts, remembering something her heard as a kid: "the best-dressed corpses wear cotton."
When the sun came up, they hiked through dense brush, eating bitter mangos and green bananas they picked along their way. About three hours into their hike, they came across a young farm worker walking a white dog. He fed the pair crackers and water while they waited for police to arrive.
"We asked if he knew anything about the captain and mate," Kate said. "He said he had seen the news the night before and they hadn't been found at that time. I think we felt a sense of tragedy that we weren't prepared for."
Eventually the pair learned the captain and first mate were rescued after spending 23 hours in the open water.
The siblings were hospitalized and given IV fluids. Kate was badly dehydrated.
The St. Lucia office of maritime affairs is investigating what caused the boat to sink, but Marine Police Sgt. Finley Leonce said the police do not suspect any foul play or criminal activity was to blame.
"We are so grateful to be alive right now," Kate said. "Nothing can sort of puncture that bubble."
"It's really been amazing," Dan said. "It's a moving experience for me."
Kate, who used to be a night owl, has found herself a morning person since the experience.
"Since this ordeal, I've been waking up at dawn every morning," she said. "I've never looked forward to the sunrise so much in my life."