I watched sharks eat my friends one by one after drunk captain crashed our yacht’
When 24 year old Deborah Scaling-Kiley set off for a routine sailing trip from Maine to Florida, the conditions on the water were perfect.
Speaking on US TV show I Shouldn’t Be Alive, Deborah said: “The weather was beautiful, the boat was fun to steer. It doesn’t get much better than that.”
But just four days into the 1,300 mile expedition in 1982, the yacht was pulled into a tropical storm and capsized in the middle of the vast Atlantic Ocean.
Deborah had set off with four other crew members – Meg, Brad, Mark and Captain John Lippoth.
But when the boat was blighted by 30 feet waves and 112km/hr winds, the scramble for safety had horrifying consequences.
The Captain, who had been drinking, fell asleep at the helm and Deborah woke in the middle of the night to hear voices panicking as icy water poured into the cabin.
Meg, who was the girlfriend of Captain John, slashed her leg as the crew was thrown about in the stormy conditions – leaving her with an open wound.
The five managed to climb into the life raft, but the blood from Meg’s wound attracted hundreds of killer sharks who circled and rammed the boat to claim their prey.
Over the next five days, the five crew members battled the odds in an epic bid for survival – but only two made it back to shore.
Surrounded and alone
As the crew jumped onto the 11-foot dinghy that Mark had inflated, he felt something nudge his leg.
That’s when Deborah noticed the hundreds of sharks in the water, surrounding the crew on the life raft.
She recalled: “The minute we got in there were fins surrounding the dinghy. They were everywhere.”
The sharks, with the smell of Meg’s blood fresh in their nostrils, tried several terrifying tactics to topple the boat to feast on their prey.
One shark grabbed the rope on the front of the boat and pulled it along the water to try and get a crew member to fall off.
Others started ramming the dinghy to try and topple their prey.
Dehydrated and delusional
Although the crew managed to hang on for several days, they were without food or water and became severely dehydrated.
Pus and blood from Meg’s open wounds were leaking around the boat, along with urine – causing all five to develop infections.
Meg grew weaker by the hour after her infected leg caused her to develop blood poisoning, which spread throughout her body.
Three days into their epic battle for survival, dehydration caused the group to become delirious.
Their thirst was so strong, John and Mark drank salt water from the sea – which is known to speed up the dehydration process and cause the kidneys to shut down.
And hallucinations got the better of John when he imagined he had seen land. Powerless to stop him, the rest of the crew watched hopelessly as he jumped from the boat, straight into the shark infested water.
Deborah recalled: “All of a sudden we just hear this shrill scream. Blood-curdling. Then it was over, silence. There was no crying, nothing. There was no doubt what got him. The sharks got him.”
It wasn’t long before hallucinations set in for Mark, too.
Shortly after John died, Mark mumbled something about going to the shop to buy cigarettes. Deborah and Brad, who were still somewhat lucid, tried to keep him on the boat, but their attempts were futile.
Mark plunged himself into the water where he was immediately pulled under the water by sharks.
Deborah described his body being thrashed against the bottom of the boat as the predators tore him apart.
“It was by far the most horrifying moment of my entire life,” she said.
Knowing Meg would be next to perish, Deborah and Brad tried to go to sleep so they wouldn’t have to watch her sticky end.
“We were sitting there watching Meg die and it was tragic,” she said.
When the pair woke up the following morning, Meg had died. Her body laid in the “fetid mess of seaweed, blood, urine and pus” on the bottom of the boat.
Desperate to survive, Brad considered eating Meg’s body, but Deborah reminded him her flesh had been too infected.
The pair instead decided to throw her off the boat.
They took off her clothes and jewellery, vowing to give it to her family when they reached land, and said a prayer before pushing her body into the sea.
“It was such a sad moment because we laid her naked body on the side of the raft and then we decided we couldn’t just roll her off. She needed some sort of funeral,” Deborah said.
After Meg went in the water, Brad and Deborah tried to sleep again so they wouldn’t hear the sharks tear into her.
Safety at last
The only remaining crew members on the boat, Deborah and Brad stuck together as best they could.
But while Brad was trying to clean the bodily fluids from the boat, he fell into the water. Deborah panicked as he scrambled to get back in.
She said: “I felt like I’d just doomed Brad to death,” knowing he’d be next to die if the sharks came back.
Luckily, Brad managed to pull himself back into the boat. Shortly after the scare, the cavalry arrived in the form of a Russian cargo ship.
Brad and Deborah used all their strength to wave at the crew – who thankfully waved back. They were saved.
The crew members threw a life ring into the water and dragged the pair to safety
“I didn’t care who these people were or where we were going,” said Deborah. “I was there and Brad was there and we were alive.”
After their rescue, Deborah took up a career as a motivational speaker. She wrote a book about her experience: Albatross: The True Story of a Woman’s Survival at Sea, in 1994.
Brad still works as a mariner in Massachusetts on the east coast of the USA. However, he admits the trauma of the ordeal has stayed with him.
He said: “It’s not something that you turn off once you’ve been through it.
“You keep living in survival mode. I don’t know if you’re shell-shocked but it’s impossible to just turn it off and live the way you did before.”
Sadly, Deborah passed away at her home in Mexico at the age of 54 in 2012. Her cause of death is unknown.