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Missing boaters endured a 'survival test,' says rescued boater

  • Story Highlights
  • Three fishermen missing since August 22 were found Saturday on capsized boat
  • Boater spotted fishermen about 180 miles from coast of Port Aransas, Texas
  • Coast Guard had called off search for men on Friday
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(CNN) -- Rescued after spending eight days lost at sea, Tressel Hawkins was happy to be back in Texas.

Three missing boaters were returned safely to Port Aransas, Texas, after their rescue on Saturday.

Three missing boaters were returned safely to Port Aransas, Texas, after their rescue on Saturday.

"Actually, it feels great to be on solid ground," he told CNN on Sunday.

Hawkins, 43, and his fellow boaters, Curtis Hall, 28, and James Phillips, 30, set out to catch swordfish and marlin when they set sail about 100 miles south of Matagorda Bay in Texas. But one night early on during their trip in the Gulf of Mexico, Hawkins was jolted by a "rude awakening."

The bean bag Hawkins was sleeping on started to float beneath him, he said. There was a water extractor malfunction, causing so much water to get into the boat that the water was knee high, he said. Video Watch CNN's Fredricka Whitfield talk to Hawkins »

There were yells and screams and attempts to stop the flooding, but it was too late. The boat capsized. They jumped ship, wondering how it all happened so quickly.

"We're just trying to get each other calm and try to get as much stuff as we could because we knew automatically it was going to be a survival test," he said. Video Watch two other fishermen describe ordeal »

The men were missing at sea since August 22.

The Coast Guard had searched a week for three men before calling off the search Friday after it said it had looked more than 86,000 square miles.

A day after the Coast Guard ended its search, the crew of a private vessel found the three sitting on top of their capsized 23-foot fishing vessel about 180 miles from Port Aransas, Texas, the Coast Guard said in a news release.

Hawkins said that when they saw the boat they waved it down to catch the boaters' attention. They were all "crying" and "celebrating."

"We had been through so much of an ordeal we were already celebrating before we got on his boat."

After the rescue, Hall went to a hospital in Corpus Christi, Texas, but left after he waited too long in the emergency room, his mother told CNN. He returned to his home in Palacio, Texas, to rest and will see a doctor later on Sunday for what he thinks are second-degree burns on his legs from sun exposure, she said.

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Phillips was on his way home to reunite with his family, his wife, Shane, told CNN. He did not seek medical attention, she said.

Hawkins suffered open sores on his legs after floating in the water for eight days. He plans to head to Fort Worth, Texas, to reunite with his family, he said.

CNN's Janet DiGiacomo and Karen Zuker contributed to this report.

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