5 Survivors Got Into the Dinghy, Then Noticed the Sharks

Brad Cavanagh tells 'Boston Magazine' of his tragic 1982 journey
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 22, 2021 1:00 PM CDT
5 Went Out to Sea, and Now He's the Last Survivor
Stock image   (Getty/Panmaule)

(Newser) – Forty years later, Brad Cavanagh is still trying to process what happened to him on the high seas when he was a 21-year-old sailor. In Boston Magazine, Kevin Koczwara tells the harrowing tale. Cavanagh was one of five people—three men and two women, all crew members—aboard a 58-foot yacht named the Trashman that sank in a storm off the coast of North Carolina in 1982. All five barely made it to a dingy as the yacht sank, at first remaining in the water as they clung to ropes from the craft. It was when they eventually flipped it over and got in that they noticed the sharks circling. They had no supplies, only hope, because they had managed to put out mayday calls from the yacht and heard a plane circling. In fact, a Coast Guard boat was on the way to their location, but the search was "either forgotten or called off," writes Koczwara. Why remains unclear to this day.

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After three days adrift, their new hope was that they would wash up on shore somewhere. "What they weren’t aware of was that a current was pulling them even farther out to sea," writes Koczwara. Two began drinking seawater and began to go mad. First, John Lippoth, their captain, slipped into the water after declaring he was going to get a car and drifted away. "Cavanagh could hear Lippoth’s last howls as the sharks attacked." Mark Adams drifted away next, and Meg Mooney died in the dinghy, ravaged by infections. Both were eaten by sharks, too. When a Soviet vessel finally spotted the dinghy after five days, only Cavanagh and Deborah Scaling were left to rescue. Scaling, who wrote a memoir about the ordeal, died in 2009, leaving Cavanagh as the Trashman's last survivor. He continues to stop at Coast Guard bases along the coast, "still searching for answers." (Read the full story.)

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