Sole Survivor of Capsized Boat Describes the Drownings

As he went to help his sister, 'people were grabbing her ... that’s why she drowned'
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 1, 2022 6:39 PM CST
Sole Survivor of Capsized Boat Describes the Drownings
In this image made from video, Colombian national Juan Esteban Montoya Caicedo speaks at a news conference, Monday, Jan. 31, 2022, in Fort Pierce, Fla.   (AP Photo/Cody Jackson)

The sole survivor of a capsized boat found near Florida’s coast says at least 15 other migrants tried to cling to the overturned vessel but couldn't hold on, some desperately tired and hungry when they let go. Juan Esteban Montoya Caicedo, of Colombia, told a Spanish-language news conference Monday in Fort Pierce, Florida, that there was a baby girl and other children among the group of 40 that included Dominicans, Haitians, Bahamians, and Jamaicans. They set out for Florida from Bimini in the Bahamas on Jan. 22. Montoya, 22, said the motor broke down in the early hours Sunday, and the boat was adrift in choppy seas for about four hours. He said he told his younger sister at that time to pray, prepare for the worst and hold onto the vessel.

But then a giant wave overturned the vessel and the two were separated. "I managed to see her again. But as I went to her to help her, the rest of the people were grabbing her. Everybody was holding on to everybody. That’s why she drowned," he said. Her body has not been found. A smaller group held on to the 25-foot boat, but as hours passed, the group got smaller, Montoya said. "What we were going through was so difficult, some people let go," he said. “The lack of food, the lack of water and lack of rest affects you, and it led them to go that route." Montoya said others still clung to the boat until Monday afternoon. It would be another day before his rescue, reports the AP.

"When I was left alone it was harder, much harder. My health was worsening, mentally I was suffering. Being alone was one more blow," he said. "But I did not lose hope." Montoya said much of the time he was in the water holding onto the motor where he felt warmer, but the night before his rescue he had climbed up onto the overturned hull, where his image was captured by someone in a merchant vessel the day he was found. Montoya said the two siblings were migrating, searching for a better life and safety. His attorney, Naimeh Salem, said he would apply for political asylum but said she could not reveal more details about his case.

(Read more migrants stories.)

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