Happy to be alive ... A tired Salaiwai Nanovo, 51 is massaged by her daughter Wana Duilomaloma whil her son Militoni Taro looks on at the fish market in Suva yesterday.
"Family saves mother, son after a 15-hour swim in open sea"
THE sort of thing you only see in a movie but it is a true story of heroism and hope.
A woman and her teenage son spent 15 hours swimming in rough open sea while a family of strangers strove through the night to find them and save their lives. All the rescuers had to guide them was an empty icebox with pictures and a phone number that they found floating in the sea.
Salaiwai Nanovo, 51, and her son Molitoni Taro, 18, of Wailekutu, in Lami, had been fishing in open waters outside the Namuka reef when their fibreglass boat capsized around 3pm on Monday.
Back at Suva Fish Market yesterday evening, a sun-scorched Mrs Nanovo described her ordeal and complained about her ears made sore by constant immersion in the sea.
"Our boat capsized when it was hit by a big wave and in that instant, Tukai's (Molitoni) legs tangled in the fishing line. The hook went right into his right foot and the left leg was completely tangled," she said.
"I went under the capsized boat and pushed it up so there was air inside and Tukai could hold onto the boat. Then we swam, for 15 hours" she said.
Mrs Nanovo had to repeatedly go under the boat and push it up when it started to submerge lower than their 'comfort zone.'
While mother and son were struggling to stay alive, their icebox floated off to nearby Naqara island, just off the coast off Viti Levu, the home of Horace Morell and his family.
The Morell's knew someone was in trouble when they found the icebox with a picture of a woman and her daughter inside.
They called the phone number found written on the lid.
Mrs Nanovo's husband Pauliasi Koroi, 52, said he received the call from the Morells late Monday afternoon.
"I was shocked and depressed, but this man talking to me from Naqara gave me his word that they would keep looking for my wife and son because they were sure they were somewhere around their island" said Mr Koroi.
He said the Morell family did what they promised and kept calling him through the night to keep his family informed on the progress of their search.
It was early yesterday morning that Mrs Nanovo and her son saw a light in the sea and heard someone calling out to them.
But they could not make contact, she said, because they didn't have any light and the sea was too rough.
"I prayed through the night, saying 'God help me and let me keep going on" she said.
Mr Koroi said early yesterday morning, members of the Morell family climbed a hill on Naqara and spotted the distressed swimmers in the sea off the island.
The Morells were able to rescue the tired and distressed pair about 8am and took them to their home.
Mr Koroi said the Morell family then contacted him and his elder son took his boat to bring his mum and brother home.
"I will always be grateful to this Morell family. They spent the night in rough seas searching for my wife and son, complete strangers to them. I had given up but their phone calls spurred my hope.
"All I want to say is that in today's world you hardly find people like the Morells" he said.