SAN DIEGO (AP) — Two Chinese fishermen rescued from the Pacific are alert and trying to communicate after suffering second- and third-degree burns from an explosion on their vessel far off Mexico’s coast, a San Diego surgeon said Tuesday, less than 24 hours after they were airlifted to California.
The men — who asked not to be identified — were in critical but stable condition and were being evaluated to see if they require surgery or can go home within the week, said Dr. Raul Coimbra, chief of trauma surgery at the regional burn center at the University of California, San Diego.
Doctors found no trauma injuries and the burns are not life-threatening, Coimbra said, adding that they cover the upper and lower extremities. One man is about 20 percent covered in burns, and the other is about 8 percent covered. He said the men, who are in their 30s, also suffered injuries from smoke inhalation.
The two were among 17 crew members believed aboard a Chinese fishing vessel that caught fire after an explosion and sank about 1,100 miles off Mexico’s Baja peninsula. Two men died, six are missing and seven others were rescued in good condition. A Venezuelan fishing boat spotted a life raft carrying 11 Chinese crew members — including the two who later died — and the two injured men were hoisted from the vessel Monday.
They are doing remarkably well considering they spent days on a ship with their injuries, in pain and unable to get full treatment, Coimbra said.
“You can imagine the amount of traumatic stress that those individuals go through,” Coimbra said. “They’ve been injured several days ago. They were in the ocean for several days. So obviously there is a high degree of stress and pain because those injuries went untreated for so many days, but as best as I can describe, they’re alert, they’re awake, they’re trying to connect with us, and I think that they will do well here.”
The Venezuelan boat picked up the 11 crew members and called for help Friday.
Responding to the call, airmen from the Air Force’s 563rd Rescue Group parachuted into the water Saturday afternoon and used inflatable boats to reach the vessel.
Rescuers stabilized the burn victims before putting each into metal baskets Monday that were connected to two helicopters by a steel cable. Crews wrenched the baskets up to the flying aircraft, and rescuers loaded them on to the helicopters. They then flew to the closest Mexican city, Cabo San Lucas, where they were put on an aircraft and flown to Naval Station North Island in San Diego. They arrived around 7:30 p.m. Monday and were taken by ambulance to the hospital.
Pilots flew for nine hours over the Pacific Ocean to recover the fishermen.
Officials say they still do not know what happened on the Chinese boat to cause the explosion.
The two bodies of the fishermen who died and seven others in good condition were put on a Chinese-flagged vessel to be taken to China.
U.S. Air Force and Coast Guard officials said neither of their branches was searching for the six fishermen believed to be missing.