Survivor recounts 3 days lost at sea in 2010

John Nevarez, his brother, his wife clung to cooler in middle of ocean

By Jenese Harris - Reporter/anchor, Erik Avanier - Reporter

The search for two firefighters stranded at sea brought back vivid memories for one man whose fishing trip nine years ago turned into a fight to survive.

John Nevarez; his brother, Elias; and his wife, Rebecca, were found by the Coast Guard in the Atlantic Ocean, holding onto a cooler, after three days of drifting at sea.

In May 2010, Nevarez, his brother and wife left from a boat ramp in Mayport to go on a fishing trip. Within hours of their departure, a storm came, waves overtook their boat and they were stranded in the middle of the ocean for 72 hours.

"The wave went right through us," Nevarez said.

WATCH: Survivor recounts experience being lost at sea

Their training in the Navy kicked in and they clung to a cooler, rationing food.

"The cooler was our life. It had all of our drinks in it. It had everything we were going to use to survive," Nevarez said. "It's all we had."

With the cooler, the three swam to the shipping lane routes. Since Nevarez's brother was wearing a bright orange shirt, they hoped a boat would see them. Vessel Tenth Frame found them.

"Seeing the boat show up out of nowhere, like, coming down the shipping lane, getting in front of it, watching it stop, turn off his engines, knowing that he saw us -- that's the only thing I remember," Nevarez said.

The three were then picked up by the Coast Guard and their boat was found at Fernandina Beach three days after they were rescued. Despite that experience, Naverez said he and his wife went back out for a boating trip in the ocean.

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Naverez said his thoughts are with Brian McCluney, a firefighter and paramedic with the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department, and Justin Walker, a firefighter from Virginia, as he knows firsthand what they may be going through.

"Just goosebumps all over my body remembering all the things we had to do to survive," Nevarez said. "If they have the will, they will buy the time that it takes us to find them."

Nevarez's plea for the two firefighters currently stranded at sea is: "Don't give up. Don't ever give up." 

Nevarez said he believes McCluney and Walker will survive. 

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