The two women who were rescued last week by the U.S. Navy after being stranded at sea on a sailboat for more than five months are now dealing with a different kind of challenge: Answering what experts claim are huge questions surrounding their story.
Jennifer Appel and Tasha Fuiava, who both live in Hawaii, and two dogs were rescued last Wednesday by the crew of the USS Ashland, after being spotted the day before by a Taiwanese fishing vessel 900 miles southeast of Japan.
The two set sail for Tahiti from Oahu, Hawaii, on May 3, a trip that should take a few weeks. The stranded mariners claim their tale of woe began on that first day when they were battered by what Appel told the Associated Press on Friday, termed a “force 11 storm” that damaged the boat’s rigging and mast.
Honolulu meterologist Norman Hui, however, told CNN there were “no organized storm systems near the Hawaiian Islands on the dates of May 3, 2017, or the few days afterward.”
CNN says it contacted Appel and Fuiava about the discrepancy, but as of Tuesday afternoon they had not responded.
The women encountered another storm in late May that killed the boat’s engine, according to Appel’s comments to AP. Still, they continued by sail.
They told AP they had radios, satellite phones, GPS and other emergency gear, but that all those devices went on the fritz around the same time. That’s something Phillip R. Johnson, a retired Coast Guard officer responsible for search and rescue operation, found strange.
“There’s something wrong there,” Johnson told AP. “I’ve never heard of all that stuff going out at the same time.”
One rescue device that did work may have been the most important of all: the Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon, or EPIRB. The alert signal sends a location to rescuers within minutes and can be activated either manually or automatically.
Appel confirmed to AP on Tuesday that the boat had the beacon, but they decided not to use it because they didn’t feel they were in imminent physical danger.
“Our hull was solid, we were floating, we had food, we had water, and we had limited maneuverable capacity,” Appel said in Japan, where the U.S. Navy took them after they were rescued. “All those things did not say we are going to die. All that said, it’s going to take us a whole lot longer to get where we’re going.”
Boating expert Linus Wilson wonders if the women made up parts of their story.
“Several of Ms. Appel’s statements about her voyage do not check out and don’t ring true to many experienced sailors,” Wilson told ABC News by e-mail. “I think a reasonable person may start out thinking that Ms. Appel was just a foolish skipper, but it seems likely many events that she recounts may have been fabricated to sensationalize the story.”
“It would be a shame if someone used a very expensive U.S. Navy rescue as a publicity stunt,” he said.