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Cape Cod lobster diver who was gulped up by a whale also survived plane crash 20 years ago

The commercial lobster diver who made headlines as a modern-day Jonah when he escaped the mouth of a whale last Friday has also lived through another classic survival scenario.

Michael Packard, 56, survived a plane crash 20 years ago that left three dead and stranded five passengers in a jungle in Costa Rica, according to an Associated Press article published at the time. 

Packard has fished recreationally in Costa Rica since 1990 and launched his own business, Mar Huron Sportfishing, in 1998. Packard splits his time between Cape Cod and Costa Rica, diving for lobster off the coast of Massachusetts in the summer and running his sport fishing business out of Porta Jimenez in the winter.

Packard, then-38, was on a Sansa airline flight headed to Puerto Jimenez from San Jose in November, 2001, when his plane crashed, killing pilot Ricardo Salazar, co-pilot Carlos Lacayo and passenger Adolfo Predo, all Costa Ricans.

Packard was one of five survivors who spent two nights in a jungle on the coast of Costa Rica. They used the plane’s radio to call for help and were able to emit an emergency beacon from the plane, though it still took rescuers over a day to get to them because the location was remote and hard to reach, according to the Associated Press. 

Packard sustained ‘multiple injuries to his abdomen and upper body,’ the article reads. He and his fellow survivors were treated at the crash site by Dr. Luis Blanco, who said, ‘they would not have survived another night at that site.’

Packard recovered at Clinica Biblica, a Catholic hospital in San Jose.

Now, 20 years later, Packard is recovering from another brush with death. 

Michael Packard, 56, has survived two brushes with death, first after a plane crash left three dead in Costa Rica and now after escaping the mouth of a humpback whale. He suffered only minor injuries after being trapped inside a humpback whale’s mouth for roughly 30 seconds on Friday morning

Experts say being eaten by a humpback whale is extremely rare, with one suggesting the whale made a mistake when it sucked Packard in and quickly spat him out (file photo)

Experts say being eaten by a humpback whale is extremely rare, with one suggesting the whale made a mistake when it sucked Packard in and quickly spat him out (file photo)

Packard had been a lobster diver for 40 years at the time of the incident and was rescued by a crewmate who called authorities on the shore

Packard had been a lobster diver for 40 years at the time of the incident and was rescued by a crewmate who called authorities on the shore 

Packard  described the experience in an interview with CBSN Boston

Packard  described the experience in an interview with CBSN Boston

Packard splits his time between Cape Cod and Costa Rica, diving for lobster off the coast of Massachusetts in the summer and running his sport fishing business out of Porta Jimenez in the winter

Packard splits his time between Cape Cod and Costa Rica, diving for lobster off the coast of Massachusetts in the summer and running his sport fishing business out of Porta Jimenez in the winter

‘I was just about at the bottom and I just felt this . . . truck hit me and everything just went dark,’ Packard said in an interview with NBC10 Boston after coming back from the hospital on Friday. ‘I said, “Oh my god, I’m in the mouth of a whale.” ’

At first, he said he thought he had been attacked by a shark, but when he realized he did not feel any sharp teeth and was not in pain, he began to figure out what had happened. He was trapped in the whale’s mouth for almost a minute, before the creature realized what it was trying to eat and purged him, Packard claims.

Packard was rescued by his crewmate Josiah Mayo, who was aboard their boat ‘The J n’ J.’ Mayo watched in shock as the water beside the boat erupted as the whale surfaced – and Packard flew out of the mammal’s mouth.

He plucked Packard out of the water, according to the Cape Cod Times, and used his radio to call authorities on the shore.

The Provincetown Fire Department later confirmed that a call came in about a diver who had suffered serious injuries to his legs ‘after interacting with a whale.’

The humpback likely hoped it would get a mouthful of sand lance fish, which live in the waters off Cape Cod, and accidentally gulped Packard instead.  

At first Packard said, he thought he had broken his legs in the incident, but doctors later said he just had soft tissue damage and bruises, and he was released from a local hospital later that day.

He said that when he was stuck inside the whale's mouth his thoughts turned to his wife and his 12 and 15 year old sons

He said that when he was stuck inside the whale’s mouth his thoughts turned to his wife and his 12 and 15 year old sons 

Packard is an avid fisherman who, in addition to diving for lobsters, catches Bluefin tuna off the coast of Cape Cod

Packard is an avid fisherman who, in addition to diving for lobsters, catches Bluefin tuna off the coast of Cape Cod

Packard runs his own fishing business out of Costa Rica called Mar Huron Sportfishing

Packard runs his own fishing business out of Costa Rica called Mar Huron Sportfishing

Pack and his wife Bibi have two sons, 12 and 15. They were all he was thinking about when he was being engulfed by the whale, he told the Cape Cod Times.

‘I saw light, and he started throwing his head side-to-side and the next thing I knew I was outside [in the water],’ Packard said to the outlet. ‘My first thought was I can’t believe I got out of that situation. My second thought was for how injured I was,’ Packard said.

Shortly after the experience, Packard posted about it in the Facebook group Packard Community Space. ‘I just want to clarify what happened to me today,’ he wrote. ‘I was lobster diving and a humpback whale tried to eat me. I was in his closed mouth for about 30 to 40 seconds before he rose to the surface and spit me out. I am very bruised up but have no broken bones. I want to thank the Provincetown rescue squad for [their] caring and help.’

Packard took to Facebook following the incident to thank the Provincetown rescue squad for its 'caring and help'

Packard took to Facebook following the incident to thank the Provincetown rescue squad for its ‘caring and help’

Some were incredulous of Packard’s experience, however. 

Peter Corkeron, a senior scientist at the New England Aquarium, said there is a one in 1 trillion chance someone would be eaten by a whale.

‘He was just unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time,’ Corkeron conceded.

One doctor at Cape Cod Hospital said Packard should have suffered hearing loss following the freak accident. ‘He reportedly ascended from a 45-foot depth in 20 to 40 seconds and didn’t have any evidence of barotrauma?’ the unnamed emergency room doctor said to the New York Post.

Other fishermen were also wary of Packard’s whale encounter. ‘People who are in the fishing industry, and people who know whales, are finding this hard to believe. It’s a first-ever that this would happen,’ said another lobsterman.

Although humpback whales can grow to 40 tons, their throats are too narrow to swallow a human, experts say. ‘For a guy to be in the middle of that giant school of fish corralled by a whale doesn’t make sense.’

He has yet to comment on any of the above claims.

Other experts sided with Packard. When a humpback feeds, he said, ‘they do what we call gulp feeding, and they an open their mouths up incredibly widely,’ which Jooke Robbins, the director of Humpback Whales Studies at the Center for Coastal Studies, said could limit their forward vision.

‘Based on what was described, this would have to be a mistake, and an accident on the part of the humpback,’ Robbins concluded, adding that she had no reason to doubt the account.

‘I didn’t think it was a hoax because I knew the people involved… So I have every reason to believe that what they say is true,’ she said.

Robbins said she had never heard of an ‘accident’ of this type, but ‘it may be that he (Packard) was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.’

Despite the most famous encounter like Packard’s is the biblical story of Jonah and the whale, similar incidents have happened in recent history.

Two women were kayaking and whale watching in November 2020 at Avila Beach, California, when a humpback whale tried to engulf their kayak. Julie McSorley and her friend Liz Cottriel escaped unscathed.

And in February 2019, Rainer Schimpf, a South African marine conservationist, was swept into the mouth of a humpback whale while snorkelling and filming a sardine run off the coast of the South African town of Port Elizabeth, according to an article written by The Guardian at the time.

The Daily Mail reached out to Packard for comment, but did not get an immediate response.  


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