Jennifer Appel and Tasha Fuiava, the two women who claim to have been lost at sea for five months after things went awry during their sailing trip to Tahiti, are now facing questions about the veracity of their story.
Inconsistencies in the women’s story have cast doubt on whether they were indeed in danger throughout any point in their five-month journey before being rescued by the Navy last week, and, in one instance, the US Coast Guard says they may have even made it within a few short hours of landing to at their intended destination. The friends left their homes in Hawaii on May 3 for what was supposed to be about a month-long sailing trip to Tahiti in Appel’s sailing boat, the Sea Nymph, but they said they ran into trouble after a powerful storm flooded their engine, broke their mast and cut off their link to emergency services.
They Had an Emergency Beacon They Could Have Used to Get Immediate Help
On Friday during a conference call, Appel did not disclose to PEOPLE and the AP that she was in possession of an EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon), which would have alerted emergency services to their location.
“We had two different Garmin GPSes. One failed, and the handheld is the one that we used for the majority of the trip,” Appel said, listing off the forms of communication and emergency supplies she brought with her. “We had two live springs, 20 flares, 10 of which we actually used trying to get attention from other vessels. We had onboard a brand new VHF, an SSB, an Icom SSB, ham radio, weather sat, and a radiotelephone.”
Yet, because their boat’s antenna failed, Appel said none of the devices worked, implying they were without any options to reach emergency services through technology.
“We had certain ways to communicate and multiple backups, and none of them actually functioned correctly,” she continued, adding that she also had an Iridium satellite phone that “never seemed to connect.”
The US Coast Guard announced Monday that Appel did not use the EPIRB because she says she felt they were not in immediate danger of dying, and did not want to distract from other hypothetical emergencies.
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They Detailed a Powerful Storm That Was Not Recorded by Weather Agencies
The entire ordeal, they claimed, began when they hit a Force 11 storm just days after they set sail from Hawaii. A Force 11 storm has cause waves dozens of feet high due to its powerful winds, and would typically be recorded by the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). Yet, when contacted by PEOPLE, the administration had no account of any Force 11 storm—or anything close to a storm that powerful—happening around Hawaii at the beginning of May.
Parts of Their Tiger Shark Attack Account Does Match With Typical Shark Behavior
One of the most thrilling parts of the women’s story of their survival was their detailed account of two separate attacks from groups of tiger sharks.
“I was absolutely astonished and down on my knees praying to a higher power that we would hold together,” Appel told PEOPLE, describing tiger sharks ramming themselves into their boat in an attempt to knock them over. “I’ve never been so scared in my whole life… It was like an earthquake going off. There was a boom and then everything shakes, even the teeth in my head. There is nothing you can do at that point… they would make waves, and they would try to knock down the boat.”
In different descriptions to various reporters, Appel described the sharks as being 50-feet long. Though she told PEOPLE they were 20- to 30-feet in length, tiger sharks, on average, grow about 16-feet long.
According to George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida, sharks jumping out of the ocean to create waves in an attempt to capsize a vessel has never been witnessed before.
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“Tiger sharks are solitary animals, though they are found in the open sea, they are usually found mostly near some land mass,” he says. “There has never been a documented case of the kind of behavior you’re seeing described in a shark of any species. Without calling names to these survivors, I would say perhaps hallucinations had set in.”
Burgess does say that sharks will slam into the hull of a boat, especially one that has been adrift at sea, since a microfauna of animals could have attached themselves to the ship, attracting other fish which the sharks can feast on.
Yet, Burgess admits that upon hearing their story, he was skeptical, as the women and their dogs looked much healthier than what he would have expected of people lost at sea.
The Women May Have Been in Contact With the Coast Guard Within a Month of Their Ordeal
The US Coast Guard told the AP they made contact with a vessel named the Sea Nymph in June when it was near Tahiti. A Coast Guard spokesperson said the captain told them they were not in distress and expected to make land the next day. According to Appel and Fuiava’s original story, their engine and mast were vastly damaged by then.
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An Area They Claim Was Uninhabited Is Home to Thousands of People
After their boat was allegedly adrift with no working engine, Appel said they reached the island nation of Kiribati.
“One whole half of the island is called Shipwreck Beach for a reason, and it is uninhabited,” she told PEOPLE. “They only have habitation on the northwest corner, and their reef was too shallow for us to cross in order to get into the lagoon, and there are no protected waters on the outside of the lagoon.””
Yet, Christmas Island in Kiribati is home to more than 2,000 people and includes a port that can fit commercial ships. The women could have used their 20 flares to alert residents and get help. Also, there is no “Shipwreck Beach” on the island, but an area on the northeast side of the island is called the Bay of Wrecks.