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'I Got Really Lucky': Makeshift Radio Saved Sailor After 12 Days at Sea

When Ron Ingraham stepped on dry land Wednesday, he kissed the ground, and said, "I'm a little dazed right now and I'm heading to the bar."

“We got a mayday here. We got a mayday. This is the Malia. Anybody picking this up?”

After two weeks lost at sea, Ron Ingraham on Tuesday broke radio silence with a distress call he made using a makeshift radio fashioned out of a coat hanger and some wire. And the Coast Guard, which had stopped looking for him more than a week ago, heard his dire transmission and the Navy caught up with him 64 miles south of Honolulu.

"It was their hard-working effort, they saved my bacon," Ingraham, a 67-year-old fisherman, said of his rescuers. "I got really lucky. It's all about these guys. They're real, live heroes."

Ingraham was sailing from the island of Moloka’i to Lanai on Thanksgiving Day when bad weather knocked his 25-foot Malia on its side and threw him into the water.

The stranded angler got out two distress calls, saying his boat was taking on water and in danger of sinking, before his radio died. But with both masts broken and his calls not heard, Ingraham thought he could die out on the high seas.

"But pulled myself in and I hung in there," he said, noting that he hydrated on fish when he ran out of water. “Wasn't as good as a sushi bar, but that's how I hydrated."

After flying 59 sorties and scouring 12,000 square miles for the missing mariner, the Coast Guard on Dec. 1 said it was making "one of the most difficult" decisions to suspend the search.

The Coast Guard tracked down Ron Ingraham's ex-wife, and then his son, Zakary, to tell them searchers had come up empty. The younger Ingraham said he pleaded with officials to keep searching, but resigned himself to his father's fate.

Learning that he had survived, the younger Ingraham, 43, said it was “the best Christmas present ever.”

"Twelve days, brother! How the hell do you do that?" he added. "I’m jumping out of my seat."

The elder Ingraham’s last known location on Nov. 27 was 46 miles west of Kailua Kona, a popular tourist village on the Big Island.

The Coast Guard returned Ingraham to Moloka’i early Wednesday. He stepped on dry land, kissed the ground, and said, "I'm a little dazed right now and I'm heading to the bar."


— Joe Fryer and Miranda Leitsinger