Updated with additional details from the “Today” show.
Louis Jordan’s Facebook page foreshadowed his fate. A year ago, the 37-year-old South Carolina man began posting photos of himself on his beloved 35-foot sailboat, Angel, which he had painstakingly restored. Over the coming months, he uploaded pictures of food he had jarred and fish he had caught for dinner. Jordan, it seemed, was preparing for a journey.
On Dec. 28, 2014, he posted a video to Facebook. It was grainy footage of a woman recounting a near-death experience.
Less than a month later, Jordan would be the one facing death at sea.
On Thursday, a bearded, sunburned and dehydrated Jordan was rescued from atop his ruined boat. He had been missing for 66 days, during which his family had feared him drowned. Jordan told the Coast Guard that he had survived on rainwater and raw fish he caught with a net and by rationing food he had packed.
The only other nourishment he had was spiritual. In a phone call to his father after his dramatic rescue, Jordan said he had prayed for himself and his family. His father answered that he, too, “prayed and prayed” for his son’s safe return.
In an interview Friday on the “Today” show, Louis Jordan said, “I was planning on catching some big ones” by sailing out into the Gulf Stream. “On the way there, my boat capsized. I was actually sleeping, that’s when it happened. The whole boat had turned around, and I was flying through the air somersaulting and the ceiling was the floor and the floor was the ceiling and this side was the other side and everything was upside down and backwards.”
He added: “I was just rolling around with all the things, all the objects, all my possessions and electronics and GPS and even my stove had come off of the wall and was flying in the air with me. We’re all just turning around together, and I land against the wall and I break my shoulder.”
“It’s amazing,” Jordan’s mother, Norma Davis, told the Associated Press. “It’s been very difficult not knowing anything, and I just feel like all of our prayers have come true. They’ve been answered.”
The real life version of “Cast Away” is all the more remarkable given the time and distance Jordan apparently drifted alone at sea. By the day of his rescue, he had traveled roughly 500 miles from home. Marilyn Fajardo, a spokeswoman for the Coast Guard’s 7th District, told NBC News that officials also searched financial data to determine whether Jordan actually had come ashore without being noticed but found no indication that he had.
The saga began Jan. 23, when Jordan set sail from the marina in Conway, S.C., on a short fishing trip.
At 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, Jordan was known as a “gentle giant.” Facebook posts paint Jordan as a free-spirited young man who shared his father’s Baha’i faith, which holds that Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad and other religious figures were all messengers of the same God. “You’ll probably never meet a nicer guy,” marina manager Jeff Weeks told the AP. “He is a quiet gentleman that most of the time keeps to himself.”
Jordan had spent months fixing up his boat and taking it on short, inland fishing trips. But his Jan. 23 expedition was something altogether different: a solo trip on the open sea.
“He might sail up and down the Intercoastal Waterway, but he didn’t have the experience he needed to go out into the ocean,” Weeks told the AP.
Jordan’s father, Frank, is a retired teacher and avid sailor so he didn’t worry when his son didn’t contact him for a few days. Three days after his son’s ill-fated fishing trip, Frank posted his own video of him sailing on the same waters. By Jan. 29, however, Frank was concerned enough to contact the Coast Guard about his son’s disappearance.
Alerts went up and down the Atlantic, and an official search was launched on Feb. 8. At first, Frank was optimistic. On Feb. 11, he wrote on Facebook: “With God, all things are possible. The Pearson 35 is an awesome boat that can ride out all kinds of conditions. Louis may have been blown out to sea by the nor’easter ten days ago, and he may be making his way back now. I pray that is the case.”
A week later, however, the Coast Guard abandoned its search. Several sailors had claimed to have spotted Jordan’s sailboat, but there wasn’t enough concrete information to narrow down his whereabouts, the Coast Guard told the AP.
On Feb. 16, Frank posted a haunting poem to Facebook dedicated “for my boy Louis” that included the lines: “life is not to be taken for granted, / no accident, experiment or joke.”
“When your son disappears and the weeks wear on, and the weather is cold and the Atlantic is stormy and wild, many horrible thoughts begin to go through your mind, and you begin to unravel,” he wrote later that day. “Your life becomes a muddled jumble of prayers and tears and doubts.”
Friends chimed in with support. “Prayers from this mother’s heart for you and your family during this terrible ordeal,” wrote one. “I saw this lone sea gull flying through the rain today and made me think of Louis finding his way home,” wrote another.
But as the weeks dragged on, Frank’s faith began to waiver. “I also pray that my son Louis Gregory Jordan will be found alive and if not, that he will continue his spiritual journey with joy and radiance,” he posted on March 2. Three days later, his thoughts were darker still: “Now it appears that Louis may be gone. God only knows when I will join him and the others, you know, the ones who have left us. The ones who played their parts on this stage of life and then exited to make room for others…”
“Nothing from or about Louis,” he wrote on March 10. “You don’t know whether to mourn or what. When they’re lost at sea, only God knows where they are.”
As his family began to mourn his death, Jordan was drifting about 200 miles off the coast of North Carolina. Somehow, his antique sailboat had lost its mast and capsized, injuring Jordan’s shoulder in the process. Normally stout and clean-shaven, he had grown thin but managed to survive after the shipwreck on just rainwater and raw fish netted from the ocean.
On Thursday afternoon, more than two months after Jordan set sail, a German tanker spotted him sitting atop Angel’s upturned hull. As a Coast Guard helicopter raced to the rescue, Jordan climbed aboard the tanker and was finally able to speak to his father over a satellite phone.
“Hi dad,” he said. “I haven’t heard you in so long.”
“Oh man, it’s nice to hear your voice,” Frank Jordan answered. “People have been praying for you.”
“I’m sure they have,” Louis said. “I’ve been praying, too, every day.” He then began to lament losing Angel, his sailboat, but his father said not to worry.
“Hey, Louis, you’re fine, son. I’m so glad that you’re alive. We prayed and prayed, and we hoped that you were still alive. So that’s all that matters,” Frank Jordan said. “I thought I lost you.”
Correction: The original version of this story said he was drifting off the coast of Virginia. The story has been updated to reflect that it was off the coast of North Carolina.