Coast Guard Members Spotted Unusual Signs Of Life On A Deserted Island

On February 9, 2021, members of the Miami Coast Guard were flying between Florida and Cuba. They spotted a strange sign of life on a deserted island that held no fresh water. When they responded, they found that three people had survived on the island for 33 days. Here is the miraculous story about three survivors on Anguilla Cay.

The Coast Guard From Miami Were Highly Experienced

The U.S. Coast Guard saves people from disasters, supports the environment, and protects American shores. One of the oldest Coast Guard crews is from Florida, which began in the 1920s.

Members of the Miami Coast Guard sail across the ocean.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The Miami Coast Guard focuses on rescuing people around Florida and Cuba. Their station opened in 1932, and three decades later, they moved to Opa-locka Executive Airport, just north of Miami. They have seen dozens of rescue missions and disasters throughout their careers. This is true even in 2021.

They Were Known For Saving Lives

The Miami Coast Guard is mainly known for responding to emergencies and saving lives. During the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the Haiti earthquake, they were there, evacuating survivors and providing medical relief.

Coast guard members sail by a ship for security.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The Coast Guard also helps people who are stranded at sea. During their routine patrols, they fly over the ocean, searching for anything amiss along the Atlantic Ocean. On more than one occasion, they have spotted someone in need of aid or rescuing.

On Many Occasions, They Rescued Sailors

One of the Coast Guard’s busiest times was in 1980. That was the Mariel boatlift, which was a mass emigration of Cubans and Haitians after Cuba opened. Within six months, 25,000 Haitians and 125,000 Cubans sailed to the United States.

Coast Guard members rescue Cuban refugees in 1980.
Tim Chapman/Miami Herald
Tim Chapman/Miami Herald

The Miami Coast Guard had to save hundreds to thousands of people who tried to take refuge in the U.S. Whatever happened in border control did not concern the Coast Guard. According to The Daily Telegraph, the Coast Guard only cares about saving lives.

It All Started With A Routine Patrol

In February 2021, the Miami Coast Guard was on a routine patrol. They departed from the Florida Keys and flew over the Bahamas, looking for anything out of the ordinary. For the soldiers, it was just another Monday.

The Coast Guard flies on a plane over the ocean.
Sezgin Pancar/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Sezgin Pancar/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Lieutenant Riley Beecher, who piloted the craft, spotted something strange on an island below. Even from 50 feet in the air, he knew that it was unusual. The team even doubled back around to take a closer look.

This Was No Ordinary Island

This was no ordinary island. This was Anguilla Cay, part of Cal Say Banks in the western Bahamas Banks. Unlike other islands in the Bahamas, Anguilla Cay is not a vacation spot. It is abandoned and unable to sustain life.

Google Maps shows how deserted Anguilla Cay is.
Google Maps
Google Maps

Anguilla Cays consists of three islands. Each one is covered in scrubs, swamps, and stunted palm trees. No freshwater exists on that island. The only animals you will find there are frogs, turtles, lizards, rats, and snakes–creatures who can eat from the swamp.

Were There People On That Deserted Island?

Despite knowing that Anguilla Cay was deserted, the Coast Guard spotted something below. “They noticed some unusual flags down there, some different colors, so they noticed some orange,” Lieutenant Justin Dougherty later explained.

Coast Guard members look down on Anguilla Cay.

Along with the flags, members of the Coast Guard noticed a makeshift cross on one of the islands. If their eyesight could be trusted, then people really did live on Anguilla Cays. Or, this situation was much more dire than a routine patrol.

They Had To Double Back

After Lt. Riley Beecher saw some orange on the island, he wanted to turn around. “I thought, ‘Let’s take a closer look.’ I had never seen anything on that island,” he recalled. The crew swung around and hovered near the island at a lower altitude.

The deserted island Anguilla Cay is seen from an aerial shot.

If there were people on that island, then the situation might be dangerous. It could have been similar to 1980 when many people got stranded on islands trying to sail to the U.S.

Three People Were Stranded On The Island!

When the Coast Guard flew back around, they saw something shocking. Three people were “signaling them” on the island, according to Dougherty. Two men and one woman were frantically waving their hands at the aircraft.

A photo from the Miami Coast Guard photographed three people stranded on Anguilla Cay.

At this point, it was clear that the people needed help. The Coast Guard had no idea how the people had ended up on Anguilla Cay, nor how long they had been there. But they were keen to find out.

But The Coast Guard Couldn’t Land

The Coast Guard flew closer and tried to land on the island. But the weather would not let them. The wind was too harsh, and if they landed, their aircraft might have tipped over–stranding all of them.

A pilot controls the cockpit of a MI-171 helicopter.
HOANG DINH NAM/AFP via Getty Images
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

But the Coast Guard members wouldn’t give up. They hovered over the stranded people, debating over what to do. Then, Ltd. Beecher had an idea. They tied a radio to a long rope and threw it down to the survivors.

So They Communicated Through Radio

When the Coast Guard sent down a radio, they received snippets of the survivors’ story. “Unfortunately, we didn’t have any fluent Spanish speakers,” Ltd. Beecher said. “But in my broken Spanish, I was able to discern that they were from Cuba and that they needed medical assistance.

A female member of the Coast Guard speaks to someone through a radio.
Rick Loomis/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Rick Loomis/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

“They made sure to stress that they had been on the island for 33 days.” How the three people managed to survive on that island for over a month remained a mystery.

They Debated Over What To Do

At this point, the Coast Guard had few options. They could not land for their safety and the safety of the survivors. The strong winds might have brought a storm, and storms in the Bahamas can be fatal for pilots.

Coast Guard pilots are talking to each other in a helicopter.
Derick E. Hingle/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Mark Reinstein/Corbis via Getty Images

After speaking with home base, Ltd. Beecher decided to return to Miami. Perhaps they couldn’t land right away, but they could give the survivors some supplies. They flew back, knowing that they would return soon.

The Coast Guard Returned With Aid

On that same day, the Coast Guard returned to Anguilla Cay. They brought food, water, and medical supplies. This was likely the first time that the survivors had fresh water in over a month.

Coast Guard members throw down packages of food, water, and medical supplies to the survivors.

Although the survivors seemed to have no injuries, the Coast Guard could never be too careful. They also sent down a radio. With that, they told the survivors that, because of the weather, the Coast Guard could not rescue them until the next day.

Meanwhile, They Tweeted The News

While this was going on, the Miami Coast Guard was updating the general public. They tweeted a video of the crew lowering supplies to the survivors from the aircraft.

Coast Guard members toss down supplies to the survivors on Anguilla Cay.

“@USCG is assisting 3 people who have reportedly been stranded on Anguilla Cay, Bahamas for 33 days,” the post wrote. “The An Air Station Miami HC-144 Ocean Sentry aircrew has dropped a radio, food and water. More to follow.” Thousands of people were now invested in the lives of these strangers.

The Survivors Made A Makeshift Tent

While the Coast Guard was dropping supplies, they caught a glimpse of the survivors’ makeshift tent. The shack seemed to be made out of tarps and bags that likely came from a ship. They tweeted images of this, too.

When people are stranded on a deserted island, the sun becomes their worst enemy. It quickly fatigues, burns, and dehydrates them. With no fresh water on Anguilla Cay, the survivors had to stay out of the sun as much as possible. Making shelter was a smart move.

Finally, They Got Rescued!

When Tuesday came, the weather had calmed down. The Miami Coast Guard could finally rescue the survivors. With a helicopter, the Coast Guard lifted the survivors safely. It only took 30 minutes, according to aircraft commander Mike Allert.

“Our rescue swimmer found them to be fatigued, dehydrated,” Allert later told WPLG-TV. “[They were] showing definite signs of just being out in the elements for the extended amount of time that they were there.” Besides that, they were okay.

The Survivors Were Very Grateful

As expected, the survivors were grateful to finally be off the island. “Being out in those harsh elements for a long period of time, they were very happy to see us,” Allert recalled.

While talking to The Daily Telegraph, Ltd. Dougherty added, “They definitely seemed very relieved. They had lost track of exactly what day it was.” That means that the survivors might have been there longer than 33 days, although we will never know the true timespan.

They Were Rushed To The Hospital

But the three survivors were not in the clear yet. After picking them up, the Coast Guard took them to the Lower Keys Medical Center, a hospital in Florida. The Coast Guard dropped them off and waited for a report.

An emergency entrance to a Florida hospital is pictured.
Jeff Daly/FilmMagic
Jeff Daly/FilmMagic

Meanwhile, the Coast Guard reported that the mission was successful near 6:00 p.m. that evening. They also tweeted out the success, relieving thousands of Twitter users who wanted to see whether the three people would survive.

The Survivors Were Surprisingly Healthy

After the survivors arrived at the hospital, the doctors determined that they were remarkably healthy. They were dehydrated and fatigued, but none of them had injuries. Few people could survive that long on an island with no freshwater.

A doctor checks a patient's blood pressure and heartrate.
Maskur Has/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
Maskur Has/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

“It was incredible,” said Ltd. Dougherty. “I don’t know how they did it. I am amazed that they were in such good shape when we saw them.” But the mystery remained: how did two men and one woman end up on Anguilla Cay?

Here Is How They Got Stranded

While on the helicopter, the three survivors told the Coast Guard (who had a translator present) how they ended up on the island. They said that, after leaving Cuba, they were sailing nearby during a storm. Because of the high waves, their boat capsized.

A 1943 painting shows a man sailing in a storm with sharks.
The Print Collector/Getty Images
The Print Collector/Getty Images

The survivors swam onto Anguilla Cay with nothing but the boat’s debris that floated to shore. They were stranded. For five weeks, the three people had to survive on a sun-drenched island with no food or freshwater.

What They Ate To Survive

Although there is little food on Anguilla Cay, the survivors adjusted to what they had. Their diet consisted of rats on land and conches from the nearby swamps. Conches can be eaten raw, but the rats were harder to consume.

Conch shells lie on the beach of an island in the Bahamas.
Jeff Overs/BBC News & Current Affairs via Getty Images
Jeff Overs/BBC News & Current Affairs via Getty Images

The three people had to cook the rats over a fire that they made themselves. If they didn’t, they would have gotten dysentery, which would have made them even more dehydrated. Fortunately, all three were okay.

But What Did They Drink?

According to Ltd. Allert, the biggest danger on Anguilla Cay is the lack of freshwater. But the island did have coconuts. According to the survivors, they lived off of drinking coconut water for 33 days.

Halves of split coconuts lie in a pile.
MyLoupe/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
MyLoupe/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

In fact, coconut can be more hydrating than water. It contains electrolytes that balance water levels in the body. Although the survivors were still dehydrated, they drank enough to make it through 33 days. Had there not been palm trees, they would have died.

The Few Plants On The Island Likely Saved Them

On top of palm trees, Anguilla Cay has many other plants and trees. “At first glance, the island doesn’t seem to have much,” said Ltd. Dougherty. “But there is some shrubbery there and some trees, so they were able to stay out of the elements somewhat.”

A palm tree is seen on a swampy shoreline.
Tim Graham/Getty Images
Tim Graham/Getty Images

In a survival situation, shade is imperative. Since the Bahamas are so close to the equator, the heat can quickly dehydrate and burn people. Had there not been so much vegetation, the three people would not have survived.

Then, The Survivors Called For Help

At some point, the survivors decided to reach out for help. They put out a few flags, which they either had or made themselves, said helicopter pilot Mike Allert. The three put it on the beach in hopes that someone flying overhead would see them.

As for the large cross, “they put out there for themselves,” according to Allert. The three survivors needed faith and hope to get through a month on Anguilla Cay. Fortunately, their tactics worked.

Their Chances Of Survival Were Shockingly Low

When people watch survival movies and TV shows, they might think that anyone can live on a deserted island. But it is much harder than it looks. In reality, the survival rate for those stranded on a deserted island is less than 10%.

A single person is alone on a tropical beach.
Gilles Mingasson/Getty Images
Gilles Mingasson/Getty Images

Every island capable of human habitation has already been inhabited. Most deserted islands have no fresh water and little food–just like Anguilla Cay. These survivors were intelligent and more than a little bit lucky.

Their Rescue Made The News

Three people surviving for a month on Anguilla Cay was nothing short of a miracle. After thousands of people tracked the rescue mission on Twitter, the story quickly went viral. It was reported on BBC, ABC, NBC, CBS, The Guardian, Newsweek, Huffpost, Washington Post, and more.

In Allert’s words, the trio was “in dire straits due to a lack of freshwater on the island.” 2nd Class Officer Brandon Murray agreed that it was remarkable for the three to have survived.

This Rescue Mission Was Not Easy

Although the rescue mission sounds easy on paper, it was not so. Sean Connett, the command duty officer of Coast Guard Seventh District, explained that the mission was complex and prone to failure.

“This was a very complex operation involving asset and crews from different units,” he said. “But thanks to good communication and coordination between command centers and pilots, we were able to safely get everyone to a medical facility before the situation could worsen.”

The Coast Guard Had Never Seen Anything Like This

The Miami Coast Guard collectively agreed that this story was unusual. Ltd. Dougherty said, “I cannot recall a time that we saved people who were stranded for over a month on an island. That is a new one for me.”

Three members of the Miami Coast Guard stand at the front of a boat.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

For one, getting stranded on an island is incredibly rare. Second, the chances of surviving for a month are doubly rare. The Coast Guard members who participated in this rescue had experienced a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Why Were The Three Cubans Sailing Anyway?

Many people wondered why the trio was sailing in the first place. During an interview with Sun Sentinel, Officer Murray admitted that is unclear where they were going. They might have been sailing to the U.S. or somewhere else entirely.

Cuban sailboats glide along the ocean.
Ernesto Mastrascusa/Getty Images
Ernesto Mastrascusa/Getty Images

It is also possible that they were sailing to fish or explore and got lost at sea. However, the Coast Guard did not need to know the details. They were only concerned about saving these peoples’ lives.

But Who Were The Survivors?

The three survivors have never been publicly identified, nor have close-up photos been released. This is likely for their privacy. Living on an island for 33 days is a traumatic experience, and they already had enough attention on them with all the news coverage.

The Coast Guard carries an unidentified Cuban woman onto a stretcher.

If members of the Coast Guard learned their names, then the Coast Guard did not release them. The two men and one woman clearly want to remain anonymous after such a jarring experience.

The Three Went To Immigration Customs

Many people wanted to know what happened to the survivors after they went to the hospital. On Wednesday, one day after the rescue, the Coast updated Twitter. According to them, the three people were taken to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency in Pompano Beach, Florida.

In Miami, people stand in line to be checked by Immigration inspectors.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

If the survivors wanted to move to the U.S., then Customs would help them. Or perhaps they want to go somewhere else. As with many other details about this story, we may never know.