On April 12, 1990, four commercial fishermen prepared to embark on a seven day expedition in the Atlantic. The Captain was 23-year-old Billy Joe Neesmith. The crew included his brother, Nathan, his nephew, Keith Wilkes, and a friend, Franklin Brantley. In the late afternoon, they set off on the Casie Nicole, a snapper boat, owned by a man named Doug Tyson. The boat had recently spent five weeks in dry dock for maintenance. Nathan Neesmith was at the helm:
"I guess it was somewhere around 3:30, 4:00 in the morning... it was still dark. I had got up and was operating the boat and the boat just seemed to be sluggish you know, like it wanted to bust through the waves, kind of like a submarine or something. It didn't want to ride over the waves. So I told my brother, he was laying in the bunk, I woke him up. I said something's wrong with the boat."
Nathan then took his brother to the control panel. It was there that they noticed the Casie Nicole was riding unusually deep in the water. They then checked the bow where the other crew members were sleeping. What Nathan saw surprised him:
"When we turned on the light, we noticed there was water about a foot deep down in the bunks where they were at."
To make matters worse, the boat's pumps were inoperable. In order to prevent the boat from sinking, Nathan and his crew had to bail the water out with buckets:
"And we got in a line and started passing the bucket and trying to bail the boat out. In the mean time, we took the life raft out. It was a two-man life raft. We'd been hollering "Mayday" on the radio. We had Billy Joe on it, working it. Never got anywhere with that. And the engine finally stalled."
All power on the Casie Nicole was lost. The radio was useless. Nathan and his crew had no choice but to abandon ship:
"Life raft was kind of rotten. It had a hole on the side of it, up on the top. We don't really know what happened there. But we do know that it had a hole in it about the size of a quarter."
By sunrise, the life raft was sinking fast. Then, salvation came floating by… it was the hatch cover from the Casie Nicole. The four men tied the raft to the hatch cover and climbed aboard. Then, Nathan saw the hull of the Casie Nicole in the distance:
"It looked like it was maybe three or four miles from us. I said I don't know what kind of chance we got, but at least maybe one of us can make it to the boat and get some kind of help. Well that's what I struck out to do. And they started hollering no, no, no, you come back. If we separate up, we going to be split up and ain't no telling what can go wrong."
Without heeding the warnings of his fellow crewman, Nathan swam to the stern of the sunken boat:
"I just kept swimming and kept swimming. I swam from oh about 9 o'clock that morning and just before dark that afternoon, I got to where I thought the boat was. I drank so much salt water trying to swim in it. And I was just real weak."
As darkness fell, Nathan lost sight of his companions. He spent a long harrowing night clinging to the hull of the Casie Nicole. But the next morning, a freighter passed within three miles of Nathan:
"Looked like it made about four stops, maybe five stops. And each time it would stop or circle. And it was in the direction where my other mates were, so I figured that maybe it had stopped to pick them up."
The freighter continued its odd movement for nearly three hours, then disappeared. For two and a half days, Nathan drifted and prayed that the Casie Nicole would stay afloat. Suddenly, a large wood and Styrofoam bait box broke loose from the boat's deck and popped to the surface:
"And I swam over to it. I got to the front of it, and bless God, the whole front was out. I mean it was just like a boat to me. It was really hot, I mean I was getting real sunburnt. My skin was turning real, real red and I was real close to dead. And I remember saying, 'God please let me go home to my wife and kids.'"
At 10 AM on April 15, 1990, Nathan Neesmith was finally rescued, twenty miles off the coast of Georgia. He had been adrift without food or water for four days. But despite a large-scale search, the other fishermen were never found by the coast guard. Still, Nathan and his family never gave up hope.
Then, one day Nathan's sister Oneda received a curious phone call. According to Oneda, the male caller spoke Spanish and seemed unable to understand English:
"All this person would keep saying was repeating our phone number and saying our name and that's all. And you know, we just kept saying hello, hello and it was just cut off, static cut off."
That same day, an unusual call also came into the home of Doug Tyson, owner of the ill-fated Casie Nicole. Once again, the caller was a man. And according to Tyson, the only English words he knew were Doug's name and telephone number:
"We didn't say anything about the call when we got it... after that, about six weeks, we were down visiting with the Neesmith family. And they started telling us about their call. And after they got through I asked how long ago was this. They thought back a minute and said about six weeks. I looked at my wife, she looked at me and I said yeah."
Over the next year, five more calls came in--three to Oneda and two to the Tysons. Finally, on March 6, 1991, Oneda received a call in which the caller spoke a single sentence in English:
"Very simple words, just said I'm bringing him home. That was it."
After only a brief moment, the connection was lost. There have been no calls since.
What really happened to the lost crewmen of the Casie Nicole? Officially, Billy Joe Neesmith, Keith Wilkes, and Franklin Brantley are presumed dead. Unofficially, there is reason to hope that they may still be alive.