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Fishermen Found After Coast Guard Gives Up Search

January 9, 1987

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) _ Two men were rescued after spending 48 hours floating in a life raft above a school of sharks, four hours after the U.S. Coast Guard gave up its hunt in an apparent case of mistaken identity.

Steven Cunningham, 25, and Tim Young, 28, both commercial fishermen, were rescued by other fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico about 100 miles off St. Petersburg late Wednesday. They were found three miles outside the Coast Guard’s search area.

The two were suffering from hypothermia and were flown Thursday from the rescue ship to Bayfront Medical Center here, said Coast Guard Petty Officer Brenda Toledo of Miami.

Both were listed in stable condition, hospital spokesman Jim Carnahan said. Young’s left foot was extremely swollen, cut and bruised, and both of Cunningham’s feet were cut, Carnahan said, noting salt water tends to aggravate infections from cuts.

″They are very, very tired, very dehydrated and thirsty,″ Carnahan said.

The men’s boat, the Shannon, went down late Monday night, sinking so fast they only had time to grab life jackets and a life raft, according to Carnahan.

Searchers had mistakenly concluded that floating debris from the boat came from another boat that sank 10 days ago, said Coast Guard spokesman Kevin Males in St. Petersburg.

The Coast Guard did not pick up the Shannon’s distress call, and the Shannon had not been reported overdue, Males said.

The men said they saw Coast Guard search planes but apparently could not be seen.

A school of sharks swam under the raft for much of the time the men were adrift, according to Bob Vinton, who owned the Shannon.

A Coast Guard search began Wednesday afternoon when another boat reported it was on top of an oil slick that looked fresh and was dotted with a cabin top, groceries and a bait box.

David’s Ark went down 10 days ago about 8 1/2 miles away from the Shannon sinking, and sailors from the first boat identified the debris and groceries by telephone, Ms. Toledo said.

″They identified everything. We were pretty sure that this debris that this guy came upon was from the vessel that sank 10 days ago,″ she said.

″Based on all the information we had at the time, that seemed like the most probable reason for that debris,″ Males added.

The Coast Guard in New Orleans suspended the search Wednesday at 7 p.m., Ms. Toledo said. But at 10:20 p.m., the fishing boat Fat Cat called the Coast Guard here reporting the rescue.

″I’ve been up here for just four years now, and I haven’t seen a case like this before,″ said Coast Guard Petty Officer Bruce Barton of New Orleans.