Three teenagers who survived on rainwater and a seagull during 61 days adrift off their remote Pacific territory of Tokelau were safe in Fiji on Friday after what was hailed as a “miracle” rescue.
They were plucked from the water as weather forecasters warned of a tropical cyclone bearing down on Fiji.
It was initially believed the boys had been at sea for 50 days, based on search reports, but rescuers who brought the teens ashore said it had been much longer.
"These three young teenagers survived the 61 days ordeal of drifting in the open sea," said Fiji Navy commander, Commander Francis Kean, told reporters.
The boys, who had resorted to sipping seawater when the rain stopped, would not have survived much longer, said Tai Fredricsen, the first mate on the New Zealand-based tuna vessel San Nikunau, which found the trio.
The teenagers were transferred to the Fiji naval patrol boat Kula and arrived in the capital Suva on Friday where they were checked at the navy base before being taken to hospital for a thorough examination.
"It's a miracle, it's a miracle," Tanu Filo, the father of one of the boys, Filo Filo, 15, told Radio New Zealand from Tokelau after learning the boys had been found about 1,420 kilometres (880 miles) from their island home.
"The whole village, the whole village, they were so excited and cried and they sang songs and hugging each other, yeah, on the road. Every people and everybody was yelling and shouting the good news."
Reporters were kept away from the boys when they reached Fiji but Kean said they were very weak.
"They suffered from severe dehydration, as you notice when they got off some of them were still weak on their legs.
"It's still not the right time to have anything solid, their bodies are rejecting food, hence the need to pump them fluid. I thank God for giving these three teenagers another chance."
Filo Filo, and his friends Samuel Perez, 15, and Edward Nasau, 14, went missing in a small aluminium boat in late September and were presumed to have died after unsuccessful searches by the New Zealand air force in early October.
The 500 people on their island of Atafu held memorial services for them.
Fredricsen was at the helm of the San Nikunau when he found the teenagers on Wednesday.
"It was a miracle we got to them," he told Fairfax Media.
"I pulled the vessel up as close as I could to them and asked them if they needed any help. They said 'very much so'. They were ecstatic to see us.
"They were very skinny, but physically in good health, compared to what they have been through."
Fredricsen said the boys had a couple of coconuts on board but no water.
"Somehow they caught a bird, I don't know how, but they caught it. They ate it, that is what is recommended.
"They were having little sips of seawater, which wouldn't have been a great idea, but they had only done it for the last couple of days."
The boys had "only days to survive," he said.
In January 2009, two Myanmar fishermen were spotted floating in a large ice-box off northern Australia after claiming to have spent 25 days at sea. However, survival experts cast doubt on their story.
In 2006, three Mexicans were found drifting in the middle of the Pacific in their stricken boat, nine months after setting out on a shark-fishing expedition.
And in 1982, American sailor Steve Callahan survived 76 days on a life-raft in the Atlantic Ocean after his yacht was holed during a storm.