MONA ISLAND, Puerto Rico -- Helicopters from the United States, Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic Saturday rescued some 100 people stranded for more than 24 hours on a tiny island 40 miles off the west coast of Puerto Rico.
Passengers and crew of the 340-foot A. Regina ferry boat were forced to spend the night on an island marine reserve after the vessel ran aground on a reef near Mona Island at 1 a.m. Friday on a trip from the western city of Mayaguez to the Dominican Republic. There were no injuries.
Rescue efforts late Friday were postponed by darkness and only half of the people were airlifted off the island. Food and blankets were shipped in by helicopter for the rest, who were forced to spend the night.
Puerto Rico Gov. Rafael Hernandez Colon blamed misinformation from the U.S. Coast Guard for the delay in the rescue.
There was no immediate comment from the Coast Guard on the allegation.
'We were under the impression that the Coast Guard had everything under control and it was not until late in the afternoon that we were informed that was not so,' said Daniel Velez, a spokesman for the governor. 'Immediately, the governor of Puerto Rico gave instructions to use the helicopters of the National Guard.'
At dawn Saturday, eight helicopters from the Puerto Rican National Guard, the U.S. Army, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Dominican Air Force began transferring the passengers to Mayaguez where they were met by Civil Defense and Red Cross officials.
The last group of passengers arrived at the Mayaguez airport at 1:15 p.m. local time.
Dozens of relatives crowded behind the airport fence looking for their loved ones as each consecutive group arrived.
Many passengers complained the ferry owners mistreated them and failed to let them know what was happening.
'They treated us like animals. We were not given food or water until the government authorities began to arrive,' one passenger said. 'Our children will never erase this odyssey from their minds.'
Officials said the passengers first had to be transferred by helicopter from a beach on the south side of Mona Island to the small landing strip, from where they were ferried across the Mona Passage by the helicopters.
Puerto Rican Secretary of State Hector Luis Acevedo, who arrived in Mona Island early Saturday to personally supervise the evacuation, sent a message to the Dominican government thanking them for their 'collaboration at this time of uncertainty.'