JACKSONVILLE, Fla, -- Lost at sea in the Pacific Ocean, one family had little hope for survival.
But, they were eventually rescued with the help of a soda can.
Before the rescue, high above the waters of the Pacific, a United States Navy crew based in Jacksonville was given the tall task of finding the family in the blue sprawl of the ocean.
"We're not trained at all in this type of mission. We don't have any sensors on the aircraft to help us support this mission with the exception of our eyeballs," said Navy Lt. Commander Todd Nichols flies people and supplies in the C-130 aircraft.
He doesn't rescue people. On a normal mission, Nichols and his crew transport military supplies.
But on a quick mission to Guam last Friday, the Coast Guard knew there was a family of five lost at sea and asked Nichols and his team for help.
"With 12 hours notice, I notified the rest of our 7 crew members," Nichols said.
They were the only plane in the entire Pacific Command equipped for the mission, so they set out on the nearly impossible task.
"Going in to the mission, the expectations were low for, I think, most of the crew," said AWF1 Joshua Simmons.
Three hours in to the rescue mission, Simmons was sitting next to Nichols when he saw a flash in the distance.
"The first thought that went through my head was complete disbelief. I thought there is no way that I saw what I just saw," said Nichols.
"I didn't believe him at first. I thought maybe he just saw something," said Simmons.
What he saw was light reflecting off a can of Coca-Cola.
Five miles out, the family stranded at sea was using the soda to try and signal anyone in the area for help.
Nichols then thought of the victims.
"Wow, I can't believe what these guys must be thinking. They've been out there for 7 days, surviving on rain water, and maybe fish if they were lucky. And all of the sudden they see a United States C-130 fly over the top of them," said Nichols.
The closest ship that could help the family was a Japanese Merchant Marine boat 70 miles away.
So Nicholas and the crew kept the small fishing boat in their sites for 5 and a half hours until the boat arrived.
"It was very difficult to keep our eyes on them, and keep tabs on where these folks were as they continued to drift," he said.
And it was down to the wire.
The C-130 was running out of fuel when the boat finally arrived to save the family of 5.
But the family, natives of Micronesia, made it on board safely.
The crew fueled up and headed back to Jacksonville.
"We all agreed across the board that this was the most worthwhile and exciting mission we have ever had the privilege to be a part of," said Nichols.
The team never got to meet the family they saved, but they said knowing the family is safe was good enough for them.
First Coast News