Watch: Shark-attacked fishermen rescued after spending 24 hours floating in Gulf of Mexico

The Coast Guard searched an area the size of Rhode Island in the Gulf of Mexico before finding the three men off the Louisiana coast. They had spent 24 hours floating in the waters after their boat sank.

NEW ORLEANS -- Three fishermen have an ultimate tale of survival after spending more than 24 hours floating adrift in the Gulf of Mexico fighting off sharks after their boat sank.

The trio were out on a fishing trip Saturday off the coast of southeastern Louisiana but did not return home by sunset as scheduled, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

Concerned family members called the Coast Guard, who launched a massive search.  Rescue helicopters from New Orleans, Mobile, Alabama and Corpus Christi, Texas swept over 1,250 square miles of open waters looking for the men and their boat.

But luckily one of the men happened to still have their cell phone even after they were tossed into the water. 

"One of the major breaks we got in the case was one of the individuals had his cell phone with him floating around in the Gulf randomly got some cell phone reception and was able to send a screenshot of a Google Map with a picture of his icon in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico," Lt. Cmdr Kevin Keefe, USCG Sector New Orleans Search and Rescue Mission Coordinator, told FOX Weather.

Crews were able to get a rough location of the boaters from the map and on Sunday morning, one of the Corpus Christi search choppers located the three men floating in the water about 25 miles south of Empire, Louisiana. "It ended up being within 2 miles of where we were able to rescue them," Keefe said.

The helicopter crew directed a Coast Guard rescue boat to the scene and found two of the men actively fighting off sharks while suffering injuries to both their hands.  

"There were four small sharks circling them and they had been literally beating back sharks for about the previous six or seven hours," Keefe said. "Which was obviously a incredible testament to their will to live and their survival instincts to get back to their families."

Crewmembers quickly pulled the two on board. Meanwhile, one of the New Orleans-based helicopters spotted the third boater and hoisted him from the water.  That crew plucked the two other injured boaters from the rescue boat and ferried them all back to a New Orleans hospital.


All three were reported in stable condition with one suffering from hypothermia, Coast Guard officials said.  Water temperatures in the region were in the upper 70s, with relatively calm seas of 2-3 feet, according to a nearby buoy.  All three have since been released from the hospital.

Officials said the fishermen's boat sank around 10 a.m. Saturday, taking much of their communications equipment with them, except the one cell phone. But all three were wearing life jackets, which likely saved their lives as they floated in the warm Gulf waters for hours awaiting rescue.

"We searched an area roughly the size of Rhode Island and are thankful to have found these missing boaters," Keefe said. "If the family member had not notified the Coast Guard, and if these three boaters were not wearing life jackets, this could've been a completely different outcome."

It's unclear what caused the boat to sink.