‘Thank God for the cooler’: Video shows miraculous boat rescue miles off Pasco County coast

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PASCO COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — Two men stranded in the Gulf of Mexico after their boat sank miles off the coast of Hudson Beach were rescued by a group of fishermen who were in the right place at the right time Sunday.

The must-see rescue video was published to Facebook by Adam Vetter Monday.

Vetter was with four others — Rob Wells, Fred Heidgerken and Joe Steplyk — boating back to shore around 6:30 p.m. when they came across a capsized boat about 12 miles off the coast of Hudson Beach.

Vetter could tell, it hadn’t been there long. “I knew there were people out there,” said Vetter. “You know I said to him, there’s somebody out there.”

The group reportedly tried to call the Coast Guard to see if the boat was called in yet, but couldn’t get a good signal. The group marked the location and continued in to shore to alert the Coast Guard.

On their way in, about 1-2 miles from the sinking boat, Heidgerken spotted something white about a half-mile north of them. As they got closer, they realized the piece of debris was a floating cooler. Next to the cooler were the waving hands of Jeovanni Villacis and Yunior Pupo.

The two had spent the day fishing until they noticed a problem as water was puddling in the rear of the boat. Villacis went to get a bucket to scoop some of the water out, but it was already too late. Their 16 1/2 foot boat was going down by the stern. Within seconds, Villacis and Pupo were in the water.

“And I’m like, grab that cooler, don’t let it go. It floats. We need stuff that floats right now. So he grabbed onto the side of the cooler “

The men clung to the white Coleman cooler filled with their catch, a couple of life jackets and then floated to the surface. When the two men saw another boat within eyesight they attempted to swim to it but the current was too strong and the boater never saw them.

The two men said they said they had been floating in the Gulf for roughly three to four hours before Wells and his crew spotted them.

Villacis and Pupo said they had been kicking to stay afloat so long, they couldn’t feel their legs. That night, Villacis said he hugged his family and slept in the same bed with his wife and daughter that night. “I told everyone, I’m just grateful to be home,” said Villacis. “(We) slept together, all hugged together that night.”

As a veteran on the water, Captain Frederick N Heidgerken knows the outcome of this situation could have been much different. “I think Monday we talked about it on the boat, and it finally hit us,” said Heidgerken. “It’s amazing.”

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