Two men stranded on a desert island in the Pacific for 15 months in the 1960s have told their astonishing survival story more than 50 years later.
Mano Totau and Sione Fataua were teenagers studying at a boarding school in Tonga Island when she and four friends decided in June 1965 to steal a whaling boat and travel nearly 800 miles to Fiji.
In a 60 minutes Totau and Fataua, broadcast specially on Sundays, described how their joyride came to an alarming end when the motorless boat was torn apart in a storm, leaving them floating in the sea without direction for days before finally seeing land.
Their experience in the months that followed has been compared to William Golding’s iconic novel Lord of the Flies – albeit without the murder and mayhem.
It wasn’t until September 1966 that sailor Peter Warner saw the boys and rescued them from the volcanic island of ‘Ata.
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A new 60-minute special Sunday tells the story of six teenage boys from Tonga who were stranded on a desert island in the Pacific for 15 months in the 1960s. The boys are pictured above after being rescued
Sione Fataua (left) and Mano Totau (right) were teenagers attending boarding school in Tonga when she and four friends decided in June 1965 to steal a whaling boat and travel nearly 800 miles to Fiji.
The map above shows where the Tonga boys left, where they went in Fiji, and where they ended up on ‘Ata Island after a storm tore the sails and rudder of their boat.
Totau laughed as he explained to 60 Minutes correspondent Holly Williams how he and five friends decided to steal the whaling boat and leave for Fiji without a motor or compass.
But the story took a dark turn on the first night of the voyage when a storm hit and tore the sails and rudder off the boat.
Fatatua, the oldest of the group at the age of 17, said they were sure they were going to die.
‘No food, no water. We were just drifting in the wind, ”he said. “And after eight days we saw the island.”
The boat eventually crashed into the rocky shore and shattered as the boys rushed to safety on land.
“All we do is grab each other and say a prayer, ‘Thank you, God,’” Totau recalled.
Only later did the boys learn that they had drifted more than 100 miles from their course and landed on the uninhabited island of ‘Ata’.
Desperate for their first meal after more than a week, the boys made a fishing rod from a leash and a piece of wire and ate raw fish. They also invaded a seabird’s nest, ate raw eggs, and drank the birds’ blood.
“As awful as it is and as dirty as it is, it’s really nice to have it at the time,” Totau said of the grim meals.
The boys soon gained enough strength to explore the island and found objects left behind by a small Tongan community that used to live there, including a clay pot, machete and chickens.
They learned how to make a fire and took turns to keep it going.
“I tell the boys that everyone has a job for the fire,” Fataua said. “You have to take care of the fire and you have to pray for that night, and get up in the morning, it’s still okay.”
In time, they built their own shelter from palm leaves, a garden with beans and bananas, a badminton court and a makeshift gym.
Fataua and Totau said the boys mostly got along – with a few disagreements here and there. If fighting did break out, they would part to cool down, Totau said.
All the while, they lived with the possibility that they might not be saved.
‘It was difficult. And I was – pray God and – and I promise him, “If you could get me back, I’ll serve you for the rest of my life,” Fataua said.
The volcanic island of ‘Ata (photo) is located about 160 kilometers from Fiji in the Pacific Ocean
The boys rewrote their survival story in a documentary called The Castaways. In the scene pictured above, the guys are shown showing off a makeshift gym they’ve built on the island
Their prayers were finally answered in the fall of 1965 when Warner, an Australian fisherman, sailed past the island and was noticed by one of the boys waiting on shift for ships to pass.
“This first figure swam up to us and did the Australian crawl, as I call it,” Warner told 60 Minutes. “And then five more bodies jumped off the cliff into the water and followed him.”
The boys climbed into the boat and told the crew how they had been shipwrecked after running away from boarding school in Tonga.
It wasn’t until September 1966 that sailor Peter Warner (pictured) saw the boys and rescued them from ‘Ata
Warner said he communicated Tonga’s capital, Nuku’alofa, by radio to verify the story.
‘The operator said very tearfully,’ It’s true. These guys were students in this college. They have been given up for death. Funerals have been held. And now you’ve found them, ” Warner recalled. “That was a very emotional moment for all of us.”
Totau said that feeling Warner’s boat felt like “ walking through the door to heaven. ”
However, the boys faced more problems when they arrived at Nuku’alofa, where they were arrested for stealing the boat.
Warner said he paid the boat owner to have the charges dropped and then transported the boys back to their home island to be reunited with their families.
An Australian film crew recorded the reunion in a film about the saga called ‘The Castaways’, in which the boys returned to’ Ata to reenact their time there.
“The whole population of this small island sat on the beach and hugged the boys,” Warner said. Parents were crying. Then the party started. Six days of partying. ‘
“My mother, she was already swimming before I got off the boat,” Fataua said. “I’m the first to go to the beach and give me a hug.”
The boys are seen with the crew of Warner’s ship after they were rescued in the fall of 1966
The boys’ story remained relatively unknown outside of Tonga until last year, when Dutch historian and author Rutger Bregman came across it on the Internet and was inspired to write an entire book about it called Humankind: A Hopeful History.
“I just couldn’t understand why this hadn’t become one of the most famous stories of the 20th century,” Bregman told 60 Minutes. ‘I just couldn’t understand because it’s just extraordinary, six kids on an island for 15 months. And they survived, how? ‘
Bregman said he noticed how different the boys’ experience was from that of Lord of the Flies, who carried a similar premise.
In the dystopian novel first published in 1954, a group of British schoolboys, stranded on a desert island, form a vicious tribe in which the weak are attacked and the strong rule.
The boys’ story remained relatively unknown outside of Tonga until last year, when Dutch historian and author Rutger Bregman (pictured) came across it on the Internet and was inspired to write an entire book about it called Humankind: A Hopeful History.
“This is really an old theory in Western culture, that our civilization is just a thin layer, just a thin layer,” Bregman explained. And that if something bad happens – if, for example, there is a natural disaster or if you are shipwrecked on an island and you have the freedom to create your own society – that people reveal who they really are. You know, people deep down are just selfish.
“ If tens of millions of kids around the world have to read Lord of the Flies in school today, I think they also deserve to know about this one time in world history when real kids were shipwrecked on a real island, because that’s a very different story. ‘
Totau and Fataua said they think they survived the island because they united.
“I think the culture we’re from – we’re close,” Fataua said. ‘A really close family. We share everything. We are poor, but we love each other. ‘
After they were rescued, the boys chose not to go back to school and instead work for a fishing company that Warner founded in Tonga.
Fataua kept a promise to dedicate himself to God on his island and became a preacher. He is now the head of the Tonga Church in America.
Totau became a chef, moved to Australia and built a lifelong friendship with Warner.
Warner and Totau (pictured together) have remained friends for decades after their unlikely meeting in ‘Ata