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Off-duty medic, detectives rescue couple that survived 14 hours at sea

They fell out of their 30-foot boat; four fishermen found them the next morning seven miles from the shore

Erika Pesantes
Sun Sentinel

KEY LARGO, Fla. — A couple stranded at sea for 14 hours drifted from Key Largo to Hallandale Beach and crossed paths with two off-duty detectives and a firefighter paramedic who were out fishing early Saturday, authorities said.

"They were just in the right place at the right time," said Broward Sheriff's spokeswoman Dani Moschella. "My goodness, they're a very, very lucky couple."

Broward Sheriff's Detectives Adam White and Josh Webb along with Broward Sheriff Fire Rescue firefighter paramedic Keith Silvas rescued Sean McGovern, 49, and Mellisa Morris, 51, about seven miles off the coast of Hallandale Beach.

In a photo with one of the detectives, McGovern is seen wearing tattered blue shorts and a soiled shirt. Morris is wearing a jacket and clutching a towel.

The detectives and firefighter were fishing for dolphin and spotted what they initially believed were fish jumping or birds feeding off the ocean's surface. When they got closer, they realized it was a man treading water and waving a T-shirt at them.

They plucked the pair from the water and brought them aboard the 28-foot Polar vessel they had gone fishing in. McGovern and Morris appeared to have mild hypothermia and jellyfish stings, the Sheriff's Office said.

The couple told the off-duty emergency responders that they fell off their boat, which had been in high gear, and drifted away. They tried swimming to safety for about 14 hours, authorities said.

"The will to survive is very powerful. I'm pretty sure that is what motivated them in keeping them floating in the water," said U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Mark Barney.

After rescuing the couple, the detectives and firefighter contacted the U.S. Coast Guard, which transported the pair back to shore. They appeared to be in good condition and were picked up by friends, Barney said.

McGovern is a Key Largo resident and Morris is visiting from Texas.

According to Barney, the couple said they fell off their 30-foot Island Hopper about 6 p.m. Friday and had been treading water for hours. Their vessel has not yet been found, Barney said.

No one had reported them missing, he said.

"All I know is they managed to tread water long enough to be rescued," Barney said. "They were definitely lucky to be found. They didn't have any signaling devices — no flares or whistles.

"They were lucky to even be spotted in the water," he said.

Barney said all boaters are advised to have a safety plan and wear a flotation device when at sea.


©2014 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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