The castaways were two men and a woman from Cuba, the coast guard said. They swam to the island several weeks ago after their boat capsized, and survived by eating coconuts, conches and rats, according to reports.
A routine air patrol spotted them on Anguilla Cay Monday while flying over the deserted island, the U.S. Coast Guard said in a statement. The castaways had built a cross and a makeshift flag that caught the attention of the patrol.
The patrol airdropped food, water and a radio to establish communications with the castaways, but had to leave them behind due to bad weather.
The coast guard returned the following day with a helicopter and airlifted the trio to safety. They were taken to a medical centre in Florida with no reported injuries.
“Thanks to our aircrews diligently conducting routine patrols, we were able to spot people in distress and intervene,” said Sean Connett, command duty officer at Coast Guard Seventh District.
“It was incredible,” Lt. Justin Dougherty told local station WPLG. “I don’t know how they did it. I am amazed that they were in such good shape.”
The castaways told the coast guard their biggest challenge on the island was finding fresh water.
They were “in dire straits due to a lack of fresh water on the island,” aircraft commander Mike Allert, who led the helicopter rescue, told ABC News.
It was not immediately clear whether the castaways were migrants trying to reach the U.S. or simply fishers who became lost at sea, U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Brandon Murray told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
Murray added that he was stunned by the trio’s survival story.
“I cannot recall a time that we saved people who were stranded for over a month on an island,” he told the paper. “That is a new one for me.”
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.