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Miami Couple Return Home After Surviving 66 Days Adrift

August 26, 1989

MIAMI (AP) _ A Miami couple who survived 66 days aboard a life raft in the Pacific Ocean returned home Saturday looking for a long rest - away from the water and their aquatic tormentors.

William Butler, 59, and Simone Butler, 56, arrived at Miami International Airport after a seven-week ordeal, during which they said their boat was sunk by whales and they had to fend off sharks and subsist on fresh fish and desalinated sea water.

The couple, each more than 50 pounds lighter after the ordeal, flew from San Jose, Costa Rica, a week after they were rescued by a Costa Rican Coast Guard cutter 13 miles off that Central American nation’s coast.

″It’s hard to believe that seven days ago we were still adrift, trying to make landfall,″ Butler said. ″Really, it’s hard to discuss the situation.″

Butler said the most dangerous day on the covered raft was a day he called ″The Shootout at O.K. Corral.″

The Butlers that afternoon found themselves in the middle of a huge school of triggerfish, a small feeding fish. Then came a school of porpoises and ″about 20 to 30 sharks,″ he said.

″They all got in a huge feeding frenzy,″ Butler said, that ended only about 3 a.m. the next day.

During the turbulent episode, either a porpoise or a shark got caught in one of the raft’s balast bags, and violently threw the raft about for a couple of minutes, according to Butler.

Butler, a retired exporter, looked trim and fit. He wore a bushy grey beard grown during the sojourn.

Mrs. Butler, who lost 67 pounds, left the plane in a wheelchair, but stood up to greet waiting family members and friends and talk with reporters.

Among those waiting to meet the Butlers was their 2-month-old granddaughter, Jessica Butler, who was born after they put to sea.

The couple was hospitalized in Costa Rica after the rescue.

″The first night in the hospital,″ said Mrs. Butler, a native of France, ″I had a terrible nightmare, and didn’t know where I was. It was a terrible two minutes in the dark before I realized that I was on land and it was all right.″

On May 24, the Butlers began a voyage from Panama to Hawaii in their 40- foot sailboat.

Nearly three weeks out, whales, apparently seeking to protect their young, attacked and sank the boat, the couple said.

‘I don’t know anything about whale psychology,″ Butler said, ″but I assume we headed into (the whales’) pack. The babies were in front, the mothers behind, then the males.″

Butler said the male whales attacked the boat, ramming its hull while making loud chugging sounds ″like a locomotive.″ The couple sent help signals, grabbed essentials and jumped into the raft as the craft went down in minutes.

They managed to escape with six cans of food - including half a jar of peanut butter - the ship’s log, a puncture repair kit for the rubber raft and the crucial fishing line and a portable desalination filter.

The canned food held out for 20 days, then they lived on fish they caught.

The couple said they sighted dozens of ships during their ordeal, but weren’t seen by the crews.

The Costa Rican Coast Guard spotted the couple floating in their life raft Aug. 19.

″We’re going to rest - and go away from the ocean for a while, to the mountains, the prairies,″ Butler said.

The life-long sailor said he plans to resume sailing ″in about a year.″

They said they have received various offers for rights to the story of their ordeal.

″We’ve already received a lot of offers,″ Butler said. ″Offers for movie rights, for TV rights, for book rights, for ghostwriters.″ But ″we’ve put that all on hold,″ his wife said.

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