Childhood friends Nick Johnson and Mark Petric gained overnight fame after they found themselves trapped inside a cave by cliffs in Rabat for three nights. Now, in an interview with Lovin Malta, the two 19-year-olds have gone into detail of their weekend ordeal…
LM: Can you tell us what was going through your minds the moment you found that cave?
Mark: We were feeling really lucky to find that cave, to be honest. All of the other places were really hard to get to and we kept on drowning, the waves were pulling us down and scratching at our hands and feet.
Nick: It’s like you feel this rush through your blood. It would have taken us 3km of swimming in really heavy waters to reach safety and God knows what would have happened…
Mark: And we kept on going with the current. We would have died.
Nick: Exactly. The current would have pulled us outwards as well.
LM: You spent three nights in that cave. How did you pass the time away?
Nick: So basically we would wake up, wash for about thirty minutes and then if it would be sunlight Mark would look out for boats and I would sleep, then I would look out for boats and Mark would sleep. We talked to each other but we didn’t talk that much, you know. We tried to keep each other as much company as possible and give each other motivation that it’s going to be ok. When he was feeling down, I would give him hope and when I was feeling down he would give me hope as well.
LM: What did you speak about when you spoke to each other?
Mark: Like about all of the goals we wanted to achieve in our lives, having known that we mightn’t be able to do them.
“We tried to keep each other as much company as possible and give each other motivation that it’s going to be OK”
LM: Did you fight with each other at all?
Mark: No, no fighting, we were quiet most of the time. On the first day, we made a few jokes but that slowly went away. As soon as we found the cave, we were kinda happy but then..
Nick: It just wears off basically.
Mark: Yes, it just wore off..
LM: What sort of jokes were you telling each other?
Mark: Random jokes… we thought we weren’t going to stay for so long in the cave. I can’t remember them now.
LM: Are either of you religious or spiritual at all?
Nick: To be honest, I wasn’t spiritual at all. But the waves were really rough and I didn’t know what to do or what to believe in. Basically I’m an atheist but after this experience… I don’t know how to explain it, but like you start to believe in something. I was brought up a Catholic and in that moment of time there was no one to turn to, and so I started praying out of nowhere. You never know what could be, if there’s actually something out there, a god or something, you never know…
LM: You ended up having to drink your own urine to survive. How long did it take you to actually do that?
Mark: I drank a lot of water and fruit juice before jumping into the water so I was better off than Nicky who had drunk a lot of coffee before, so he had to drink his own urine.
Nick: For three days, I drank my own urine. It tasted horrible and I wanted to throw it up but I managed to keep it in.
LM: How did you drink it?
Nick: Yes, you just put your hands in a cup formation, you pee in your hands… like mouthwash basically but you actually drink it.
“I’m an atheist but after this experience…I don’t know how to explain it, but like you start to believe in something”
LM: Did you eat anything at all during those three days?
Mark: Nothing. We had no food, no water.
LM: Did you think, at one point, of perhaps catching a fish?
Mark: *laughs* Well, me no way.
Nick: There were crabs and I had told Mark that if we had nothing to eat, then we had to at least try and catch a crab. They were really small crabs but at least, try and eat them, you know…
LM: You’re vegans, right?
Mark: I’m vegan, yeah.
LM: So throughout the experience, even though you only had crabs to eat, you still wouldn’t eat them?
Mark: No, no I still wouldn’t.
LM: Did your veganism help you in your experience?
Mark: Yes, for sure. No doubt about it. It meant I had more oxygen in my blood to help my brain keep going much longer.
LM: How long do you think you could have held out without eating fish or crabs in that cave?
Mark: I probably could have made it another three days but by then I’d have probably died from dehydration.
LM: Nick, are you a vegan too?
Nick: No, I’m not. I’ve tried it and I do eat lots of vegan food. Out of respect for Mark, when I’m around him I don’t eat meat. Because I respect his ways, you know…
LM: You had said that when you went to sleep, you slept on each other to keep yourselves warm…
Nick: Yes, to preserve our body heat. We had to keep changing our positions because the rocks were really sharp so we would take it in turns. I would stay at the bottom for 30 minutes and then we’d change positions.
Mark: After three nights, it got colder and colder. Apart from the fact that we didn’t have food or water so we were getting weaker and had less energy to burn.
LM: You found the cave after you were swimming, so I suppose you didn’t have much clothes on… just your swimming trunks, is that correct?
Mark: Nicky had swimming trunks but I had to take mine off because while we were trying to get up to safety, the reef kept cutting our hands and feet so much that we were bloody all over. So I took my trunks off to use them as a sort of rope to keep me in place with the current..
LM: So you were naked then?
Mark: Yes. In the moment I wasn’t thinking straight and the currents were pulling me so much that I had to let go of them. I didn’t think any more, I didn’t have time to put them back on so… for four days, I was bare naked.
LM: Did you ever need to shit?
Mark: On the first day, I had massive diarrhoea. I didn’t think I was going to piss or shit but since I didn’t know how long it would take for them to find us and that if I didn’t do any of those things I’d have more nutrition in me to go a few days ago. But then I started pissing and… yeah.
“When I was dreaming it was like I was entering reality and when I opened my eyes it was like I was entering a nightmare”
LM: Did you ever consider drinking seawater at one point?
Mark: Yes, we both considered drinking seawater but we both knew that if we drank it we would get super dehydrated and die.
LM: They say that when you’re close to death, some very strange thoughts enter your mind that are completely irrelevant to the situation and are sometimes even completely absurd. Did you experience that?
Mark: My life was flashing before my eyes. As soon as I closed my eyes, I started dreaming very vivid dreams and every time I closed my eyes it was like a different chapter in my life flashed before me, or I thought about all the goals I had set out for myself. When I was dreaming it was like I was entering reality and when I opened my eyes it was like I was entering a nightmare.
LM: Was there any time you felt about to let go?
Mark: When I was being dragged out to sea, I was honestly going to give up and Nicky kept telling me to come back to shore. Then I saw Nicky getting a bit weak after two days and I was like ‘are you going to make it man?’ He said ‘I don’t know’ but I kept on giving him positive feedback. Many times throughout the day we were thinking positive things, that they were going to come for us, that they were going to call, but then like an hour later we’d say “Bro, I don’t think anyone will find us here because its a secluded area”. The waves never stopped, they kept on going in the same direction for days…
LM: But on the final day they did stop, right? And you ended up swimming out of the cave to try and find safety…
Mark: At like 5am on Monday, we woke up because we were getting cramps and we were getting numb. We looked at the sea and saw it was much calmer than it was on the other days and I was like “Nicky, let’s jump”. He was a bit hesitant at first but I was like “Man, it’s either this or we’re going to have to stay a few more days without food or water and then we’d really get weak and we’d have no other option”.
LM: You were famously photographed on those cliffs. For how long were you clinging on to the cliffs before the fisherman spotted you and called in the army?
Mark: I don’t know. We went out, the waves were still a bit calm, we wanted to go back to the stairs we had jumped from, get our stuff and call the police. But, halfway there, the waves started picking up again so we swam to a cliffside we had wanted to reach originally.
LM: Who spotted the fisherman first?
Mark: I think Nicky, but he thought it was a buoy or something. It was a red colour and I didn’t have my glasses on and I saw it moving around and I thought “that’s a guy”. We would have climbed up, there was one storey above us but it got a bit steep and we were really tired and bruised so..
LM: Did the fisherman offer you any food and water?
Mark: Yes, he came up from the cliffs and tied his food and water to a rope and pulled it down to us. He gave us a sandwich with ham and cheese, but we just left it there because we knew that we were going to be saved anyway at that point.
LM: When you were in the ambulance, did you suspect that this was going to be a major national story?
Mark: No way, we didn’t think it was going to be this big to be honest. As soon as the navy people came in, they told us that everyone was looking for us and then in hospital they showed Nicky some articles and told him that we’re all over the news.
LM: How was it meeting your family again after that experience? Did they think you had died?
Nick: To be honest you’d have expected a whole bunch of emotions but actually we were emotionless. You don’t feel happy, you don’t feel sad, you just don’t know what’s going on, just that you’re in a bad dream that you can’t control.
LM: Are you closer to your parents now?
Nick: Yes, much, much, closer. Something good came out of this because the bond between me and my parents is much stronger now.
LM: When do you plan to go hiking next?
Mark: This week, we were supposed to be resting yesterday but I chose to go to the gym because I don’t want to be this sad person…