Fishermen reconnect with the woman they rescued 35 years ago
Two fishermen walked into a podcast recording studio. They thought they were going for an interview about their harrowing rescue of a 9-year-old girl whose family died in a shipwreck off of the California coast 35 years ago.
They left the studio having been reunited with the girl herself—now, a 44 year-old woman whom they hadn’t seen since the accident took place in 1986.
In a heartwarming reunion orchestrated by fishing podcast host Philip Friedman, fishermen Paul Strasser and Mark Pisano got to meet Desireé Campuzano. In 1986, Strasser and Pisano’s charter was coming back from Catalina Island. They came upon a capsized boat and a young girl in an orange life vest floating in the ocean. The fishermen rescued Desireé, bringing her onto their boat and returning her to shore.
Desireé had been in the water, alone, for twenty hours before Strasser and Pisano came to the rescue. Her mother, father, sister, aunt, and uncle all died in the shipwreck.
That day 35 years ago was the last time Strasser, Pisano, and Campuzano ever saw each other. Strasser tells Faith Pinho of the Los Angeles Times that “Desireé was a ghost. “We saved her, she’s out in the world. And that’s all we know. We had no clues on anybody that knew how to get ahold of her.”
Meanwhile, Friedman saw an opportunity to connect the now-grown woman with her rescuers via his podcast Friedman Adventures, which delivers nautical narratives to the masses. After Pisano appeared on the show to talk about the rescue story, Friedman was set on tracking down the girl whose life had been saved.
When Desireé’s former co-worker, Pablo Peña, listened to that episode of the podcast, he reached out to Friedman to say that he thought he knew the woman whom the fishermen hadn’t seen since their heroic rescue.
Peña connected Friedman with Campuzano, and the two then decided to team up in planning the emotional reunion. The fishermen were invited to be guests on Friedman’s show to talk further about their rescue story. Meanwhile, Campuzano joined the studio under the alias of “Raquel”, pretending to be a Spanish translator who would prepare the fishermen’s story for Spanish TV.
When Campuzano revealed her true identity shortly into the episode, Strasser and Pisano both immediately broke down into tears and finally got to hug the woman whose life they had saved over three decades ago.
After reunion, the fishermen brought Campuzano back out onto the ocean for the first time since the shipwreck. They visited the exact site of her rescue, where the three brought flowers as a way to memorialize the family Campuzano lost.