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Couple treaded water for 14 hours: Couple rescued after 14-hour ordeal in ocean

Fort Lauderdale's coastline
Fort Lauderdale's coastline
Fort Lauderdale / Wikimedia Commons

A couple who treaded water for 14 hours in the ocean off of Florida’s Fort Lauderdale coast were rescued by off-duty sheriff officers who said they were “stunned” at finding the pair alive. The officers, who were out fishing on Saturday morning, plucked 50-year-old Sean McGovern and 52-year-old Mellisa Morris from the waters after the couple survived a 14-hour struggle to stay afloat – with no life jackets or any sort of signaling device.

“We were all stunned, we all looked at each other and asked are we seeing what we think we’re seeing,” said Keith Salvis, of the Broward Sheriff Office’s fire rescue department. The chance rescue came after Sean flagged down the officers with his white shirt.

McGovern said he and Melissa “fell off” of their 30-foot boat on Friday near Key Largo, and could not make it back since the boat was still in gear. They were forced to simply tread water and hope that other boaters would see them. Their boat was reported to have washed up on the Fort Lauderdale shore.


McGovern and Morris were taken ashore, treated for mild hypothermia and jellyfish stings, and picked up by friends, U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Mark Barney said.

Barney said the pair are fortunate to be alive. “They are very lucky – they didn't have any signal device. They were trying to signal people down with their T-shirt. To be located and recovered by off-duty cops and a firefighter – that's a stroke of luck right there.”

Barney recommended that all boaters wear life jackets, especially when driving. “A lot of people don't wear life jackets because they don't have intention of being in water,” Barney said. “It was a miracle they were able to tread water that long and were safely recovered.”

Salvis added that the couple drifted 10 nautical miles after falling overboard at approximately 6 p.m. Friday night. “As empty as the ocean was today, with only another two or three boats, they might have been out there for another two or three days and who knows what fate might have held,” Salvis said.

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