After his 23-foot rowboat lost battery power in mid-May while trying to go around the world, Aaron Carotta spent more than a month at the mercy of ocean currents as they swept him across the Pacific.
Then, when a giant wave capsized his vessel, he inflated a leaking life raft and immediately activated an emergency satellite beacon. He didn’t have long to wait for help: water was pooling around his ankles, he was shivering with hypothermia and a shark was circling nearby.
But a few hours later, a US Coast Guard plane appeared — the first plane Mr. Carotta, 45, had seen in more than 80 days — and kicked off the rescue effort.
« It was a sight for sore eyes, » Mr. Carotta said on Tuesday, a day after a cargo ship that had pulled him out of the water left him in Hawaii. He had departed Panama in February on a mission to circumnavigate the globe.
New satellite technologies, especially the Starlink Internet systems operated by rocket company SpaceX, have greatly improved the chances that people lost at sea will be found. In March, for example, a Starlink connection helped rescuers find the crew of a sailboat that capsized after colliding with a whale in the Pacific.
But older satellite rescue technologies can still be very effective, as they were in Carotta’s case. In 2021 alone, nearly 2,500 people were saved following maritime notifications through the international satellite network called Cospas-Sarsat. The network is used by search and rescue authorities around the world and its notifications are automatic and instantaneous.
« That’s the beauty of the system, » said Douglas Samp, who oversees Coast Guard search and rescue operations in the Pacific.
Mr. Carotta’s life as an adventurer began around 2008, when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer and left his job as a real estate appraiser « with the hope of finding a more focused path ». as he later wrote. He beat cancer and spent six years traveling to dozens of countries, doing charity work and supporting himself as a freelance television producer and presenter.
After a series of personal and professional setbacks, Mr. Carotta, who hails from Louisiana, decided to embark on ambitious water-based expeditions. One was a 5,000-mile solo canoe trip from Montana to Florida. Another was his planned circumnavigation of the globe, which he called a spiritual journey that would take him three to five years and would help recalibrate his life to « see the level. »
But a few weeks after it entered the open sea, the solar panels that powered its on-board battery stopped working. He fixed the problem—enough to upload a final video to Facebook from his phone in mid-May, over a Starlink connection—but eventually ran out of battery. That left him with just an iPhone, a GPS tracker, and an emergency satellite beacon.
He decided not to turn on the lighthouse, as he knew it would trigger an international rescue effort and put pressure on Coast Guard resources. So when his and his other devices lost power, he only navigated with a compass.
The device indicated that it was on its way to drifting into French Polynesia a few weeks later, so it continued to drift silently. He stuck to a daily routine he described as « eat, pray, fish. »
« I kept rowing, » Mr. Carotta said. “Like, ‘no problem. I’m in a rowboat. I understand.' »
But as the days went by, concern about Mr Carotta’s silence grew among people following his journey on social media, said his friend, Alison Dawn. They were concerned in part because Mr Carotta had expressed concern in his May Facebook post that a « rogue » wave could capsize his rowboat, Smiles.
In late May, another friend, Rachel Palmer, who lives in New Zealand, decided to notify search and rescue authorities.
« As a friend, what do you do? » she said in an interview Wednesday. « You have to do something. »
After an initial international search was suspended, another began weeks later when Mr. Carotta activated his emergency satellite beacon on 15 June.
A Coast Guard aircraft, which had been in the area on another rescue mission, flew four hours to Mr. Carotta’s location, approximately 1,400 miles northeast of Tahiti, the agency said. Near sunset, she dropped survival gear for him, but took off for Honolulu to refuel before conducting a rescue.
The ocean currents prevented Mr. Carotta, who was wearing only a bathing suit, from reaching the equipment and did not want to risk swimming due to the circling shark. So he spent the night floating in rough seas, saving the water and battling the cold by curling up into a ball on the floor of the liferaft.
« Hypothermia was the killer, » he said.
The next day, a merchant vessel that had been alerted of her location by the Coast Guard pulled up alongside her raft. His crew hoisted him aboard with a crane.
“Though I can’t quote scriptures, deliver a sermon at a parish, or claim a perfect past,” Carotta said. wrote on Tuesday on Facebook, from Honolulu, « I hope this story of a simple effort with human power demonstrates a real effort for purposeful living, others can prove themselves in their own lives, with their own ocean and boat. »