Cast Away: 15 Real Stories From People Who Were Lost At Sea

If you remember Castaway, it was the story of a man who was lost at sea and found himself stuck on an island for a very long time. It’s something that we see in the movies, but we don’t ever think about it happening in real life. It’s too horrific to even think about; we just don’t even want to imagine it. One person being stranded at sea for days, sometimes even months is an unbearable thought. Unfortunately, it does happen.

These poor people were not only stuck lost at sea, but they were gone long enough to run out of food and water. They survived through resourcefulness and the sheer will to live. Not everyone makes it out of these situations alive, in fact, there are a lot of people who get lost at sea and are never heard from again. These stories are different, however. Not only were these people cast away and made it back home, but they came back as survivors in very unlikely situations. Check out these stories of real people who were lost at sea.


15 Louis Jordan

Louis Jordan was looking for adventure when he set sail from South Carolina in January. He wanted to go fishing, but instead, he went missing. So, what happened to him? His boat capsized and his mast broke. He ended up breaking his shoulder in the process as well. He knew he was in some trouble, so he started rationing his water and collecting fresh water in a bucket. This guy was a true survivor and he made sure to trap and scoop up fish. The poor man was missing for 66 days as he drifted in the Atlantic Ocean. It’s crazy to think that he was just floating around and no one saw him. Jordan said that time just stood still, "It took so long. It moved so slowly." A German-flagged container ship spotted Jordan and rescued him from uncertain death. When he returned home, his father said, "I thought I lost you."

14 Tami Oldham Ashcraft


Tami was only 23 years old when she decided to cruise the South Pacific with her fiancé Richard Sharp. Tami was an experienced sailor and the two were going on a six-month adventure. This was no regular vacation though, they were hired to deliver a 44-foot yacht from Tahiti to San Diego, but they never made it. Only three weeks into their journey, they found themselves caught in 40-foot waves caused by Hurricane Raymond. Her fiancé insisted she go below deck and he should have gone with her. Tami remembered hearing his scream before she was knocked unconscious after the boat jerked, sending her flying into the wall. When she woke, the storm was over, but the masts had snapped, the safety line hooked to her fiancé was empty, and the engine, navigation system, radio, and emergency locator were destroyed. She ended up creating a makeshift rail and pumped water from the cabin. It took her 41 days to get to Hawaii and she wrote a book about her experience called Red Sky in Mourning: A True Story of Love, Loss, and Survival at Sea.

13 Jose Salvador Alvarenga

Could you imagine being lost at sea for 438 days? That’s exactly what happened to Jose Salvador Alvarenga and it’s a miracle he survived. In 2012, he set off on the Pacific Coast of Mexico and disappeared according to locals. He wasn’t seen again until a year later. He was supposed to be fishing with a friend, but it turned into a nightmare. Winds blew him off course and they lost radio communication and the use of their engine. A month into the harrowing adventure, Alvarenga said his friend died because he wouldn’t eat raw birds. After a while, he lost track of how much time passed as he tried to survive on rainwater and even at times, drank his own urine. He sustained himself by eating sea turtles. By some miracle, his boat arrived on a remote island called Ebon Atoll where he was rescued. "I thought, 'I am going to get out,'" he said. "Get out, get out, get out."

12 Troy Driscoll And Josh Long


Troy Driscoll and Josh Young were only teenagers when they were accidentally pulled out to sea in Charleston, South Carolina. Unable to get back, the boys spent six days lost at sea. In order to survive, they drank rainwater when they could get it and ate jellyfish. Things were starting to get desperate for the two and at some point, Long said to Driscoll, “Please, help me get out of here or kill me.” Thankfully, it never came to that. They were rescued by fishermen who happened to see their boat. The two boys had lost a whopping 30 pounds in under a week, which is probably the worst way to do so. Driscoll was also in pretty bad shape. Due to sun exposure, Driscoll was admitted to the hospital for second-degree burns.

11 Ron Ingraham

Most people would assume that if a 67-year-old man was lost at sea,  it would be the end of him. Ingraham was a fisherman and he loved his life at sea, he had no interest in retirement. He set off on a solo trip one thanksgiving from the Hawaiian island of Molokai. He got caught in some bad weather and a huge wave struck the boat, pushing both him and the mast in the water. He was able to grab a rope and pull himself back into the boat. His son put out a search for his father, but after a few weeks, the coast guard wanted to call off the search. Zakary Ingraham responded, "I don't feel like he's dead. I don't feel it." It took another 12 days before his father was found, "weak, hungry, and dehydrated."

10 William And Simone Butler


William and Simone Butler thought their day at sea would be unlike any other. What came as a surprise to them was that their boat was attacked by whales off the coast of Costa Rica. They knew they would have to abandon the ship, so they grabbed the portable saltwater purifier and some fishing rods and got into their rubber life raft. They were lost at sea for 66 days, surviving on fish they caught and the purified water. The scary part was they were constantly attacked by sharks and had to continuously repair their life raft so it wouldn’t sink. Imagine how terrifying that would be, to have sharks trying to sink your boat. It was a miracle they survived considering how many times they were attacked, but they can probably thank the saltwater purifier for keeping them alive as long as it did.

9 Adrian Vasquez

Adrian Vasquez was only 18 years old when he was invited on an overnight fishing trip with two of his friends. During the trip, they caught plenty of fish, but at some point, the engine just died on them. Their boat was pushed further into the Pacific Ocean and the boys tried to survive on raw fish and rainwater. We’re not sure how his friends died or why he was the only survivor, but he claimed he threw their bodies into the sea because they had become badly decomposed. He was out there for 26 days before he was rescued by the Ecuadorian navy. Vasquez had lost 20 pounds on the trip and showed "severe signs of dehydration and lack of nutrition.” It must have been a very traumatizing ordeal for him to go through. "For us, this is an opportunity to get closer as a family," his mother said by phone, "to be more understanding and loving."


8 Steven Callahan


Steven Callahan decided to take a solo trip into the Atlantic Ocean in 1983 on a 21-foot craft. Like what happens with most of these situations, Callahan was caught in a storm. He had to leave his boat behind and climbed into a rubber lifeboat. He found himself lost at sea for 76 days, surviving on fish and rainwater. During those 76 days, he traveled 1,800 nautical miles. He spent his 30th birthday on that raft but he still thanks God that he survived the trip at all. Thirty years after he was rescued, he was contacted by Ang Lee as a consultant. Lee wanted some advice from the survivor for his own lost-at-sea film. The film turned out to be the adaptation of Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. How amazing. Sometimes good things come from bad experiences.

7 Salvador Ordonez, Jesus Vidana, And Lucio Rendon

In 2005, three Mexican fishermen decided to go fishing off the Pacific Coast of Mexico with a couple of friends. At some point during their trip, the engine died and they drifted out to sea. They only had one fishing rod, a few blankets, and their Bible the entire time. They were lost out at sea for nine months together. Two of the men died while out at sea and their bodies were immediately disposed of because the three men did not want to be tempted to eat their friends. At some point, a Japanese trawler came upon them and  rescued them. Many people couldn’t believe they had survived at all, but they claimed that it had everything to do with their faith in God.

6 Hiromitsu Shinkawa


Hiromitsu Shinkawa was at home when a 9.0 magnitude earthquake occurred, causing a tsunami to follow soon after. Around 16,000 people died during that tsunami, but Shinkawa wasn’t one of them because he was carried out to sea for nine miles. "I was saved by holding onto the roof," the 60-year-old said, according to Kyodo News Agency. "But my wife was swept away.” Shinkawa was found days later out at sea, floating on heaps of splintered wood, waving a red flag. The Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force rescued the man and offered him a drink when he burst into tears. "I thought today was the last day of my life." It’s a miracle that he survived a tsunami at all, but being swept out to sea may have been the best thing that ever happened to him because he was probably pulled away from most of the destruction.

5 Harrison Okene

In 2013, Harrison Okene was working as a cook on a tugboat when it capsized off the coast of Nigeria. It was just one of those freak accidents that many people don’t expect to survive. He was underneath his boat for 60 hours and the reason he survived was that he found a pocket of air in the shipwreck. All he had for those 60 hours was a bottle of coke which he rationed during that time. He actually videotaped himself while underneath the boat, and when he was rescued, the video went viral. The video was posted on LiveLeak.com and it showed his ordeal and his rescue. He was the only survivor.

4 Samu Perez, Filo Filo, And Edward Nasau


Samu Perez, Filo Filo, and Edward Nasau were only teenagers when they were lost at sea, and considering how young they were, it’s crazy to think they survived such a long time at sea. In 2010, the three boys were reported missing from Atafu, a small island near New Zealand. It was a wonder how such young boys survived, but they did. They thankfully had tons of coconuts on the boat. They also managed to kill a seabird while they were lost at sea. Aside from that, all they had was rainwater that they collected in a tarp to help them survive.  They were rescued eventually by a crew on a tuna boat almost two months later.

3 Abby Sunderland

Abby Sunderland had a dream of being the youngest person ever to sail around the world. But there is definitely something to be said about an experienced sailor with many years out at sea. As accomplished as you think you are as a young sailor, there are some things that can only be learned by extensive time out at sea. She definitely shouldn’t have gone out there alone, but it’s probably hard to find someone else to leave their job that can travel around the world. She took her trip in 2010 and survived 138 days of the trip without issue. That was until a 40-foot wave hit her boat leaving her stranded in the Indian Ocean. Thankfully she was only lost at sea for three days before she was rescued. She was interviewed by PEOPLE and she told them, “I’m still going to sail around the world one day.”

2 Amber Burkett


In 2013 Amber Burkett, a 16-year-old was vacationing on Utila, an island off the coast of Honduras. While she was there, she decided to charter a boat to go to the island of Roatan. We are constantly surprised as to how many young teenagers are going off on boats alone. Where are their parents and why do they allow them to vacation alone? Burkett was with a group on the boat and when the group returned from Utila, they went a bit off course. How this happened is unclear, whether it was a mechanical problem or a shortage of gas. Thankfully, they weren’t adrift for long when they were found four days later by the Coast Guard. The rescue crew got nine people off the boat and sadly, it was discovered that the boat didn’t even have a rescue beacon on it. Not exactly something that should be chartering people around while on vacation.

1 Brad Cavanagh And Deborah Kiley

In 1982, five people got in a boat and went on a trip from Maine to Florida. The people aboard were Brad Cavanagh, Deborah Kiley, John Lippoth, Mark Adams, and Meg Moony. All the people on the boat were strangers except for John Lippoth and his girlfriend, Meg Moony. John and Mark argued for most of the trip, which was not good because they were both considered to be heavy drinkers. On the second day at sea, the weather worsened and the waves were 15-feet high. They decided that Brad and Deborah would stay up while everyone else rested and sobered up. They finally went to bed when the others were sober enough to take over. But the two woke up to the boat filling up with water. Instead of Mark and John watching the boat, they tied the steering wheel and just went back to bed. They all got into an inflated Zodiac boat and abandoned ship. Meg died because she got deep lacerations after getting caught in the rigging. Mark and John started to drink seawater and every day became more delusional. Both Mark and John jumped overboard at different times and were eaten by a shark. After the fourth night at sea, a rescue boat saved the last two remaining survivors, Brad and Deborah.



More in High Life