Trashman Shipwreck Incident – A Tale Of Survival


  • Forty years ago, a group of five cremates found themselves stranded in the middle of the ocean after their boat capsized.
  • The incident—known as the Trashman Shipwreck—has been the subject of several documentaries and films.

A recent news article published in the News Week talks about one interesting news on the title “We Just Hear This Shrill Scream. Then It Was Over. The Sharks Got Him”.

A tale of survival

In 2019, the story was told in the Discovery Channel film Capsized: Blood in the Water starring Josh Duhamel and the survivors took part in the 2005 documentary I Shouldn’t Be Alive, in which they described their horrifying ordeal.

In October 1982, a yacht, the Trashman was sailing along the eastern seaboard to Florida.

Aboard the boat were experienced sailors Brad Cavanagh and Deborah Scaling Kiley, the boat’s captain, John Lippoth, his girlfriend Meg Mooney, and Mark Adams—a friend of Cavanagh’s. Despite the substantial amount of sailing experience of those onboard, nothing could have prepared them for the tropical storm that appeared out of nowhere just two days into the voyage.

The boat had been making difficult progress off North Carolina when the gales hit, rolling off the coast of Cape Fear, Boston Magazine reported.

The yacht was in poor condition. Its motor spluttered and broke down regularly, and its sails were wind damaged. As the storm raged the Trashman began to sink and eventually capsized and its crew alerted the coast guard to come and rescue them.

Unknown to them, a boat had been on its way to rescue the group, when for some unknown reason the search was either forgotten or called off.

The five people on board yacht were forced to abandon ship and balance on a tiny life raft, floating in the middle of the ocean without food or water—but that was not all. North Carolina is home to an abundance of marine life, including one of the biggest and most aggressive species of shark: the tiger shark. It was not long before three tiger sharks began to circle the group.

Tiger sharks are one of the “big three” shark species responsible for most shark attacks on humans, alongside the bull shark and the great white.

Shark attacks on humans are rare. In 2021, sharks killed 11 people, the International Shark Attack File reported. They usually occur when humans are swimming in areas with a large abundance of prey.

The five crew members had spent four hours in the water, holding on to the lines along the sides of the life raft, which they had flipped upside down to prevent it from blowing away.

Having righted the raft, the group had nowhere to go and some were bleeding—potentially having alerted sharks up to a quarter of a mile away to their presence.

James Sulikowski, a shark expert and marine biologist at Arizona State University, told Newsweek that the blood may have attracted the sharks, but it was more likely to have been the movement of the water.

“Tiger sharks are one of the three most aggressive shark species out there. And they typically feed at the surface. The thing with tiger sharks is that they are a large roaming predator. So any type of potential food item that’s out there, they’re going to investigate. And you’ve got individuals in the water who are trying to stay afloat. They’re doing all sorts of things that are creating sound waves that will attract the sharks.”

One of the sharks began banging its head against the raft, a retelling of the story in Boston Magazine in August, 2021 said. It swam underneath the raft and began lifting it up and down. Cavanagh and Scaling Kiley tried to use a piece of plywood attached to wire as an anchor, hoping it would help steady the buffeted raft. But as they threw it into the water, the shark took hold of it and began dragging the boat at full speed.

The sharks eventually left them alone but three days later they returned. At this point the crew were severely dehydrated and becoming delirious.

Convinced he could see land that didn’t exist, Lippoth leaped into the water.

There was silence for a second before a terrifying sound pierced the air.

“All of a sudden we just hear this shrill scream,” Scaling Kiley said in I Shouldn’t be Alive. “Blood-curdling. Then it was over, silence. There was no crying, nothing. There was no doubt what got him. The sharks got him.”

The next to become completely delirious was Adams. In a state of delusion, he told the rest of the crew that he was going to buy cigarettes. Scaling Kiley and Cavanagh attempted to stop him but before they knew it he had jumped in the water. Sharks fed on Adams underneath the raft.

“It was by far the most horrifying moment of my entire life,” Scaling Kiley said in I Shouldn’t Be Alive.

While Scaling Kiley and Cavanagh were weak, Mooney’s situation was worse and she began speaking in tongues and shivering violently. Her wounds had festered and she began to suffer hallucinations. The next morning, they both woke to find her dead.

It occurred to Cavanagh to eat Mooney, as intense hunger took hold of the two survivors but they knew it would be counter-intuitive as she was so sick when she died. They gave Mooney a makeshift funeral and pushed her body into the ocean.

“We decided to go back to sleep so when the sharks attacked we wouldn’t have to see it,” said Scaling Kiley.

Five days after the ordeal began, Cavanagh and Scaling Kiley were rescued by a Russian cargo ship.

What caused the sharks to attack?

“It’s really rare that people would be stranded out in the middle of the ocean, kicking and trying to stay alive. It’s wrong place, wrong time,” Sulikowski said. “These things happen when we’re in the water. Sharks live in the water and that’s their environment, they are looking for food there. If we go to an area which has a lot of prey items, there is a good chance that we as a human being are going to be mistaken for that.”

Sulikowski said human blood is not generally appealing to sharks. But mistakes can happen.

Stephen M. Kajiura professor of Biological Sciences at Florida Atlantic University told Newsweek: “Tiger sharks can be very large and quite capable of consuming large prey, including adult humans.

“The Trashman story is a special case. The majority of shark bites take place along the beach where bathers get bitten by sharks. However, most of those are a case of mistaken identity where the shark is unable to visually resolve that it is a human and not a little bait fish and thus the person’s hand or foot gets bitten. For larger sharks, like white sharks, the shark could mistake the person for a prey item like a seal.

“In the case of the Trashman wreck this took place because the survivors on the life raft were leaking bodily fluids into the water which provided a strong odor cue to attract the sharks to the area and arouse them to search for food. Once the feeding motivated sharks were cruising around the boat, when a person went splashing into the water, they became an easy target for the sharks.”

Kajiura also said the life raft itself may have attracted fish, which then attracted the sharks.

“The life raft floating in the water could act as a fish aggregating device,” he said. “Fish like structure and there is very little structure available in the open ocean. If you had a life raft floating in an otherwise featureless environment, fish could be attracted to it and stick around in the shadow of the raft.”

“As a result, sharks might have already been in the proximity of the raft and the odors from the survivors might have been enough to arouse them to bite when they were presented with a potential prey item like a struggling human,” Kajiura said.

Scaling Kiley died in 2014 at the age of 54. She had become a motivational speaker, talking of her ordeal and how she survived. But she could not be around Cavanagh. He told Boston Magazine Scaling Kiley said he reminded her of what had happened.

“[She said] I’m sorry, but I cannot be around you. I don’t want you to have anything to do with me. Please leave me alone.”

Cavanagh is now living in Bourne, Massachusetts with his wife and two children. He told Boston Magazine he is determined to find out why the coast guard never showed to save him and his crew mates.

The original case file of the incident provides little insight into why this happened, the magazine reported.

Cavanagh has searched the East Coast for answers, looking for anyone who may know why he and his crewmates were left adrift for days with no help.

But it remains a mystery to this day.

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Source: News Week


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