A Cooler Saves The Day

A relaxing weekend fishing trip turned into a terrifying ordeal for two men and three boys.

Their 20-foot fishing boat sank May 22, 2004, in the Gulf of Mexico nearly 25 miles off the coast of Florida. The group spent almost 14 hours in the water clinging to a cooler and praying for help.

Ben Pollock and his son, Ben Jr., 14; and Frank Doolin; his son, Michael, 13, and their cousin, Jordan Stokes, 12, were eventually saved by another boat that happened to pass by.

"When the boat first sank down, it just caught us all off-guard," said Ben Pollock on The Early Show. "We were changing the fuel tanks, and the boat just slid backwards and flipped."

He notes as the boat slid backwards into the water, the boys calmly put on their life jackets and got in the water towards the front of the boat to balance it out. But the boat rolled over.

"We were not expecting to lose our boat," Pollock says. "We had enough things to float out there for a month in case something happened. But, you know, we found ourselves in the water."

They grabbed flares, fishing line and a cooler and started praying for a rescue.

Pollock recalls, "We came up with a flashlight, three flares, and a flag to wave. Everything was happening so fast. We were trying to stay calm and think. Frank got the boys up on the top of the boat and was tying them off. We got the anchor rope and cut it off with the back of the propeller. At that time, we had not got a knife. We had a boat full of knives; everybody had about two knives on them. But every one of them went to the bottom when we needed them the most."

The five tied themselves together with the line, but the flares only sent off weak signals. By about 7:25 p.m, the boat sank some 25 miles from shore.

As they floated, the men desperately tried to keep the boys awake in the 78-degree water.

The cooler was a big part of how they were able to survive since it provided buoyancy besides drinks.

The elder Pollock says, "It was the most important because we had our fresh water and drinks. We were able to hold the boys up. The one thing I could have never imagined was the cold hitting us that quick when the sun set. Every one of us was shivering and just frozen and suffering from losing our body heat."

And as jellyfish stuck to their legs, they prayed and tried to keep a positive state of mind. Pollock says, "We had an all-night prayer meeting."

About 8 a.m. Sunday, they tried to signal a passing boat by throwing their cooler back and forth in the air and waving an orange flag. Somehow, that caught the attention of the passing boaters.

"We pulled closer and, oh my God, it was men and these little children," said Carol Fullerton, one of the boaters.

Proud of how the children endured the ordeal, Pollock gave medals to the boys on The Early Show, saying, "I want to give each one of the boys a medal of valor, because they overcame their fear of death during this day. Without their calmness, we would have never made it."

The capper to the story: The boat that rescued them is called "In The Cooler."
  • Tatiana Morales

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