The Coast Guard had called off the search nine days earlier.
The missing boater’s friends had planned his memorial service.
Then, on Tuesday, the unbelievable happened in the waters off the Hawaiian island of Oahu: Ron Ingraham was found alive — and adrift — in his 25-foot sailboat.
But his boat, Malia, began taking on water, and Ingraham made a distress call for help, saying his vessel was in danger of sinking, according to the Coast Guard.
That initial distress call and a second one later in the day prompted a massive search that involved helicopters and planes and covered 12,000 square miles. But nothing turned up.
A few days later, on Dec. 1, the Coast Guard called off the search.
“When the commanding officer for the Coast Guard told me he was going to call off the search, I said, ‘Man, I don’t think you should call off the search because I don’t think he’s gone,’ ” Ingraham’s son Zakary told Hawaii News Now.
Still, the suspension of the search seemed to signal the inevitable, and Ingraham’s friends began preparations for a memorial service. It was scheduled for this coming Saturday, they told KITV.
But 12 days after Ingraham dropped off the map, another distress call came through.
“We got a mayday here. Mayday. This is the Malia,” Ingraham was heard saying Tuesday morning. “Anybody picking this up?”
The Coast Guard heard the call, which was made 64 miles south of Honolulu. The USS Paul Hamilton, a guided-missile destroyer, was just 14 miles away from Ingraham at the time, according to the Coast Guard. About an hour after his call for help, the Navy ship reported that Ingraham was “weak, hungry and dehydrated.” But he was alive, and without injuries.
Zakary Ingraham told CNN that his father fishes for a living and lives aboard the boat. The younger Ingraham said his father told rescuers: “We ain’t leaving without my boat.”
Ingraham was brought back to Molokai on Wednesday, along with his boat.
Coast Guard Lt. Scott Carr told KITV that finding a person after a search has ended almost never happens. “I’ve been in 21 years, and there’s maybe a handful of times where we found somebody after we suspended.”
Following his rescue, Ingraham told ABC News that he was knocked into the water when a rogue wave hit his boat. “But I had a rope so I towed myself in,” he told the network. He also told ABC that he’d survived on fish.
“I’m a fisherman so I caught fish; it wasn’t as good as a sushi bar, but that’s how I hydrated,” he said, according to ABC.
Ingraham’s son told CNN that after four days of searching the rough Pacific waters, officials thought the boat had sunk. He was relieved that his gut feeling — that his resourceful, tough-as-nails father was still alive — was right. “He’s alive after 12 days at sea,” Zakary Ingraham said. “I couldn’t be happier.”
Zakary Ingraham, who lives in Missouri, has been estranged from his father, not having him seen him since the 1990s, the Associated Press reported. His father’s disappearance prompted deep remorse for him, especially since his 8-year-old son has never met the elder Ingraham.
“We didn’t really have a falling out,” Zakary Ingraham told the AP. “We just kind of grew apart.” Since finding out his father had disappeared, he’s reached out to local fisherman on Molokai to learn more about Ron Ingraham, the man without a known email address or phone number.
But now that his father has been found, Zakary Ingraham said he would try to take out a loan so he can afford the pricey trip back to Hawaii, where he lived until he was 7 and his parents divorced.
“When I see my dad, I’m going to give him a big hug,” he told AP. “I’m going to do everything I can to get out there as soon as possible.”
And that memorial service for Ron Ingraham scheduled for Saturday?
It will be a celebration instead.
“I thought I was going to die,” he told ABC. “I hung in there. It took mental discipline. But these guys are real heroes and they save people’s lives. I owe it all to them.”
This post has been updated.