As sportfishing captain Markus Medak stood in the wheelhouse of New Lo-An on a moonless, cloud-choked morning that painted the Pacific Ocean sky ink-black, he thought he saw a faint light.
But it couldn’t be, right?
It was 1 a.m. Friday, more than 95 miles off the San Diego coast, as the boat chasing bluefin tuna east of an area known as Tanner Bank bobbed along the edge of a watery wilderness.
Just three other vessels were operating within a remote grid that covered 100 square miles, with two of those more than 10 miles away. There was no radio contact or electronic signatures indicating other traffic.
The captain squinted for answers.
“I saw the lights were starting to move erratically, which was odd,” Medak said Monday, via satellite radio, while guiding another long-range fishing trip. “We moved closer and I saw a white stripe and thought maybe it was a kayak that had blown out.
“When we flipped on the spotlight, it was a panga(-style boat), sitting very low in the water with a lot of people waving frantically. It looked the lights on a cellphone.”
Adrift for three days, 23 Mexican nationals and two Guatemalans had run out of food, water and, most critically, options. Flagging down a boat in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere using low-power phone flashlights, ranks somewhere between infinitesimal and flat-out impossible.
Lt. Cmdr. Scott Verhage of the U.S. Coast Guard’s San Diego sector, the pilot who flew a MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter to the scene after Medak placed the distress call, has been involved in dozens of rescue missions.
This was lottery-winner-level luck.