WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Three teens who were missing in the South Pacific for 50 days — and were already eulogized in a memorial service — have been found alive by a New Zealand fishing boat.
The boys — two 15-year-olds and a 14-year-old — disappeared while attempting to row between two islands in the New Zealand territory of Tokelau in early October and were given up for dead after an extensive search involving New Zealand's air force.
Their craft had drifted 800 miles to a desolate part of the Pacific northeast of Fiji, when the crew of a tuna boat saw them frantically waving for help Wednesday afternoon.
"All they could say was 'thank you very much for stopping,' " Tai Fredricsen, first mate of the San Nikuna, said.
"In a physical sense, they look very physically depleted, but mentally … very high," Fredricsen told New Zealand's National Radio on Thursday.
The boys, Samuel Pelesa and Filo Filo, both 15, and Edward Nasau, 14, will be taken to a hospital in the Fiji capital of Suva on Friday.
The rescue came not a moment too soon: Fredricsen said they had begun to drink seawater because it hadn't rained in the past few nights.
He said that the boys survived by catching fish and eating a seagull that landed on their boat.
Fredricsen said the boys were dehydrated, sunburned and very thin, but otherwise seemed okay. The tuna boat's crew gave them small portions of fruit and fluids.
He said the boat's crew didn't normally travel through that part of the region but was using the isolated sea route to shorten its return to New Zealand.
The boys come from the atoll of Atafu, one of three that makes up the tiny Tokelau island group where 1,500 people live.
Tanu Filo, the father of one boy, said the news was broken by one of the teens' grandmother after she had a phone call from the fishing boat.
"It's a miracle, it's a miracle. The whole village, the whole village, there were so excited and cried, and they sang songs and hugging each other, yeah, on the road. Everybody was yelling and shouting the good news," he told Radio New Zealand International.
Atafu, Nukunonu and Fakaofo, picture-perfect South Pacific islets, lie 300 miles north of Samoa, surrounded by 128 mostly uninhabited coconut palm-covered islets. The territory has a total land area of just 4.7 square miles.