Disaster at sea: Shipwreck forces a mother to make an unthinkable choice

"48 Hours" Live to Tell: Silverwood family's tale of physical and emotional rescue and survival after their dream adventure at sea turns into a nightmare

This story originally aired Feb. 28, 2009. It was updated on July 27, 2013.

When John and Jean Silverwood set out to sail the world with their four children, they had no idea that the emotional baggage they brought on board would nearly sink them. Anger, tension and family secrets pulled them apart.But when they suddenly strike a reef, John is pinned under a fallen mast and his wife must choose between saving him and saving their children.

This is an unbelievable, but true tale of physical and emotional rescue told from the inside out.

Jean Silverwood: I just kinda stared at the ocean and I stood there and I talked to God because I didn't know what to do. We were about a day and a half out of French Polynesia. We had just left an island called Raiatea, which was about 300 miles west of Tahiti.

Amelia Silverwood: This trip was all my dad - all his dream. Ever since I could remember, my dad would talk about taking us out on the boat and taking us sailing around the world.

Jean: It was a very, very dark night and the moon hadn't come up. And I went down to my stateroom to relax, because it was the end of the evening and all of a sudden, we looked at my son, Ben, who just screamed "Reef."

Ben Silverwood: Just like a grinding noise. I couldn't see any land. We could sink at any moment.

Jean: The sounds were like microphone feedback in an auditorium where you have to cover your ears.

Amelia: That was when the whole boat started shaking.

Jean: We looked at each other with surprise and then we hit even harder. We're out in the middle of the Pacific [Ocean] and you just can't hit a reef.

Amelia: And then I hear stuff breaking and alarms start going off.

Jean: We came running up on deck - it was like mass hysteria. John and Ben ran up to cut the sails and put the engines into reverse. I instinctively ran down below to see how the kids were doing.

At that point in time, I turned to the sofa to see my two little kids hugging each other ... Jack and Camille, screaming, "I don't want to die. I don't want to die!"

Camille Silverwood: We just held each other. I was scared and sad.

Jean: I turned to look to my right and I saw this massive, huge wave come gushing through the right side of the boat through Amelia's room.

Plates and sneakers and toys are floating around in the galley. And I stood there and I just felt I was in a scene from the "Titanic." It was surreal.

I had no clue what to do. And that's where it really hit me; that we were in a situation where we were all gonna possibly die.

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