David McMahon says he wasn't terribly afraid in the first minutes after the two-engine plane he had been flying crashed in Hawaiian waters en route from Oahu to the Big Island. After all, the 26-year-old tells Hawaii News Now of the July 13 accident, he and the plane's co-pilot, 23-year-old Sydnie Uemoto, had survived the crash and had called for assistance before they bailed out of the plane. Help would soon arrive, he thought. But what the pair ended up going through in the ocean soon brought his fears to the forefront, notes the Guardian, with a 21-hour ordeal that included McMahon's life vest getting punctured (meaning he had to tread water and swim), jellyfish stings, and being circled by a shark as rescue choppers and search planes passed them by, unable to see them due to the waves and sun glare even though they flew over the two at least 10 times.
And it was a long, cold night in the water for the pair, who barely knew each other before their flight. They each credit the other with their survival—Uemoto says McMahon kept her calm, while McMahon says it was Uemoto who encouraged him to keep going when, in the middle of the night, he was freezing, plagued by cramps, and ready to give up. "Just hang on to my ankles," she told him, which he did while she kept them both afloat for more than an hour. The next morning, a new round of rescuers flew overhead, and this time a US Coast Guard helicopter spotted them. "It wasn't our time," McMahon now says. "We just both knew we were going to go back and just be a family." Both tell KHON2—which notes they were treated for minor injuries, as well as hypothermia and dehydration—that they plan to keep piloting for Mokulele Airlines.