A New Zealand fisherman is recovering after surviving 23 hours alone at sea before being dramatically rescued. Rob Hewitt had fallen overboard from his fishing boat off the coast of Raglan and managed to stay afloat in shark-infested waters overnight. In an incredible stroke of luck, the sun’s reflection off his watch caught the attention of a passing boat the next morning, leading to his rescue.
Overboard Without a Life Jacket
51-year-old Hewitt had been loading crayfish pots onto his 6-meter fishing boat when he lost his balance and fell into the water on January 2nd. With no life jacket on, he watched the boat motor away without realizing he had gone overboard. Hewitt found himself alone and exposed in the waters of the Tasman Sea, several miles from the coast.
As Hewitt recounted to local media after his rescue:
“As soon as I surfaced I saw my boat sailing off into the distance. I was in a bit of a panic. I had no life jacket, no means of communication, and I was out in the middle of nowhere.”
Stranded Through the Night
With no other choice, Hewitt started swimming towards land. However the currents kept dragging him out to sea no matter how hard he kicked. Exhausted after hours of failed efforts to reach shore, when night fell Hewitt resigned himself to the likelihood he would not survive until morning.
“When it got dark that’s when panic really started to set in. I was shivering, my teeth were chattering. I couldn’t get my body temperature up. Who would find me in the middle of the ocean at night?” said Hewitt.
Hewitt remained as still as possible to conserve body heat as he floated in the cold waters. Though the risk of hypothermia was severe, his biggest fear was being attacked by sharks that he could glimpse circling beneath him in the moonlight.
“I could see quite a lot of sharks swimming around me. Three to four sharks were just circling at one point. I was terrified I was going to get bitten at any moment but they never did.”
|Battled vainly to swim to shore before resigned to likely death as night fell
|Shivered helplessly as sharks circled beneath; didn’t expect to see morning
|Spotted in distance by fishing boat and rescued after 23 hours total
Miraculous Morning Rescue
The next morning as the sun rose, Hewitt was barely keeping his head above water after hours of floating. Over 7 miles from shore, he suddenly noticed a flash of light reflect off his watch. Desperate for any chance of rescue, he maneuvered the face of his watch to maximize the reflection towards a fishing boat he spotted in the far distance.
“The sun came up and I saw a boat coming towards me in the distance. I started shining the face of my watch its way. The boat seemed to stop, then it headed straight towards me very quickly,” Hewitt described.
The captain of the boat had spotted the bright flare of sunlight bouncing off something in the water. He motored closer to investigate and was shocked to discover a fatigued man floating in the ocean after almost 24 hours adrift. Hewitt was wrapped in blankets and given water as the boat rushed him back to shore and medical treatment.
Aftermath and Other Survivors
Currently recovering with his family, Hewitt is in remarkably good condition given his lengthy ocean ordeal. Doctors expect him to make a full recovery after proper rest and nourishment. Hewitt also takes comfort in the fact he is not the only Kiwi to endure a night stranded at sea and live to tell the tale.
In 2016, another New Zealand fisherman named Will Fransen fell overboard without a lifejacket near Stewart Island and managed to stay afloat for over 15 hours until his rescue. Fransen reported how focusing on positve thoughts about loved ones helped him endure the long cold night alone before his eventual rescue by helicopter the next morning.
Both men credit maintaining a positive mental attitude and the will to survive for enabling them to overcome the slim odds and extreme adversity. Their tales of perseverance and fortune are inspiring stories of human resilience.
Rob Hewitt’s dramatic tale of survival vividly illustrates how a small miracle can mean the difference between life and death when every odd is stacked against you. Local search and rescue personnel have emphasized his case reinforces the importance of always wearing a life jacket and other safety equipment when boating. There will surely be increased scrutiny applied to preventing such accidents in the future.
For now, Hewitt is just happy to be back on dry land with his family. After braving sharks, hypothermia, and despair through the long night, the glint of hope from his watch will forever signify for him how our fate can turn on small moments of chance when we need it most.
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