A New Zealand fisherman managed to survive more than 23 hours in the ocean after falling overboard in what police are describing as an “absolute miracle.”
Will Fransen was pulled out of the sea near Mayor Island on Wednesday after a trio of fisherman “noticed an unusual reflection on the water” and ultimately “discovered a fellow fisherman desperately trying to get their attention using the reflection of the sun on his watch,” according to Whangamatā Sgt. Will Hamilton.
“When I went in the water I knew the chances of somebody even knowing I was in the water were pretty slim. I was pretty pessimistic from the outset,” Fransen told the New Zealand Herald. “I just kept staying alive.”
The 61-year-old told the newspaper that he departed on a solo fishing trip on his 36-foot boat Tuesday from New Zealand’s North Island. Fransen reportedly lost his balance and fell over a railing after hooking a marlin, then he discovered that his boat was drifting away from him.
“I grabbed the line with the marlin attached and started pulling the line out. I tried pulling my way towards the boat only to have the line slip out of my hand, which is pretty gutting, because next thing my boat’s idling over the horizon and I’m treading water,” he told the New Zealand Herald.
The newspaper reports that Fransen, who was wearing a harness that offered some buoyancy, then floated south near Mayor Island.
Hamilton said in a statement that Fransen tried to swim toward the Alderman Islands, but was “dragged away by the currents.”
“He endured a cold night in the ocean, too exhausted to keep swimming. During his time in the water, even a shark came to ‘have a sniff,’ before leaving,” Hamilton added.
Fransen was eventually rescued Wednesday around 2 p.m. local time after spending about 23.5 hours in the water, police say.
One of the fishermen who helped save him, identified by the New Zealand Herald as Max White, said that his colleague “saw a glimmer of what ended up being his watch” and that Fransen was “super cold” and “severely dehydrated.”
After receiving treatment at a local hospital, Fransen said he had a meal from McDonald’s and a Heineken beer.
“It is an absolute miracle the fisherman is still alive after the ordeal,” Hamilton said. “Without the quick actions of the three gentlemen that retrieved him, this certainly would have had a tragic outcome.”
Police say the current whereabouts of Fransen’s boat remains unknown.
“The boat may be missing, but the fisherman still has his watch,” Hamilton said.