N.Z. diver survives three days in open sea

Hewitt of New Zealand is carried off a Police boat after being rescued from the sea near Wellington
Robert Hewitt is carried from a police boat by navy divers after being rescued from the sea off Mana Island near Wellington, New Zealand, on Wednesday.Nzpa / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

A scuba diver rescued after drifting in open sea for more than 72 hours said Thursday that he wouldn't have survived much longer.

"Honestly with the hallucinations that I had, especially yesterday, I don't think I would have made last night," Robert Hewitt, 38, told a radio network from his Wellington Hospital bed.

The former New Zealand navy diver said he began hallucinating toward the end of his ordeal, after three days without drinking water and only a crawfish and four kina, a type of sea urchin, as food from his dive bag.

"I honestly thought yesterday (Wednesday) afternoon I was at home. I started taking off some of my gear, here and there, floundering around like I was lost," he told radio network NewstalkZB.

Hewitt was found Wednesday by two searching Navy divers, floating about 500 meters off Mana Island, north of the capital, Wellington. He was dehydrated and very cold, wearing only the bottom of his dive suit, police search and rescue officials said.

‘Alive, conscious, dehydrated’
The diver, who disappeared Sunday near Mana Island on a dive trip, was "alive, conscious, dehydrated and needing medical attention," police spokesman Bruce Johnson said.

A police launch brought him to shore, and weeping family members watched as he was placed in an ambulance.

As Hewitt drifted along the north Wellington coast, he said his hope for a rescue faltered, but his determination helped him survive.

"Just one crayfish and four kina, after the first night I knew I had enough sustenance for 24 hours," he said.

"I must say I was dying of thirst, but you look at the young kids overseas who haven't got water to drink so I just put myself in a mental state like that," he added.

‘I shed a few kilos’
Back on land, Hewitt even managed to joke about his ordeal. "I shed a few kilos, but maybe they were the kilos that needed to be shed," he laughed.

His brother Norm Hewitt — a former player for New Zealand's national All Blacks rugby team — said the extended family had gathered Monday at the family "marae," or "meeting house" in the language of the country's indigenous Maori people.

The family, who are part Maori, had since been praying to Tangaroa, the Maori sea god, for their relative's safe return.

Robert's survival was "a miracle," Norm Hewitt said Thursday. "There'll be elation, there'll be a lot of tears, there'll be a lot of prayer, there'll be a lot of things happening," he added.