Anoth­er sur­vival sto­ry, attrib­uted most­ly to luck.

A crew­man on a com­mer­cial tuna-fish­ing boat was the first to spot it: some­thing shiny and metal­lic in the water off the ship’s bow. The crew­man alert­ed the nav­i­ga­tor, and the 280-foot San Niku­nau slight­ly altered course to avoid a col­li­sion. As the ship came clos­er, the object revealed itself to be a small boat, an alu­minum dinghy. It was late in the after­noon on Novem­ber 24 of last year. The New Zealand–based San Niku­nau was in open water, a cou­ple of days out of Fiji, amid the vast­ness of the south­ern Pacific—an expanse the size of a dozen Saha­ras in which there are only scat­tered specks of land.

The dinghy, four­teen feet long and low to the water, was designed for trav­el­ing on lakes or hug­ging a shore­line. There was no way it should’ve been in this part of the Pacif­ic. If the San Niku­nau had passed a quar­ter mile to either side, like­ly no one would have noticed it. Any­way, it appeared emp­ty, anoth­er bit of the ocean’s mys­te­ri­ous flot­sam. But then, as the big ship was approach­ing the dinghy, some­thing star­tling hap­pened. From the bot­tom of the tiny boat, emerg­ing slow­ly and unsteadi­ly, rose an arm—a sin­gle human arm, skin­ny and sun-fried and wav­ing for help.

There were, as it turned out, three peo­ple on the boat. Three boys. Two were 15 years old and the third was 14. They were naked and ema­ci­at­ed. Their skin was cov­ered with blis­ters. Their tongues were swollen. They had no food, no water, no cloth­ing, no fish­ing gear, no life vests, and no first-aid kit. They were close to death. They had been miss­ing for fifty-one days.

The rest of the sto­ry illus­trates what hap­pens in a sur­vival sit­u­a­tion where the men­tal aspect becomes the most impor­tant fac­tor in sur­viv­abil­i­ty.

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