Ken Henderson (left) and Ed Coen (right)
Ken Henderson (left) and Ed Coen (right), who were friends for 25 years, were forced to make tough decisions after their boat sank in the Gulf Coast on March 22. Henderson made it back to shore, but the Coast Guard didn't make it in time to save Coen. Courtesy

On March 22, Ken Henderson and Ed Coen set out for a fishing trip. The two ex-Marines from Texas had been best friends for 25 years, and while this Gulf Coast fishing adventure was nothing out of the ordinary for them, neither could have possibly expected the life-changing events and tough decisions they would face.

After a few hours of fishing, Coen noticed their boat, a 30-foot Scarab, was quickly fillling up with water. The two men quickly reacted: Henderson attempted to start the four bilge pumps and Coen unhooked the boat from the oil and gas rigs where they were fishing. But when Henderson tried to rev the engine, saltwater had already leaked in.

Mayday, mayday, mayday Marine 16, Henderson said over his radio. He even called 9-1-1 on his phone; neither receiver picked up. There was no signal.

All of the sudden, the bow tipped up and launched Henderson and Coen into the water; luckily, both men were already wearing life jackets. Coen's sunglasses and hat flew off, but the two men managed to grab a few other life jackets and items from their boat floating around in the water.

The water was so cold it took your breath away, Henderson said.

The men tried to swim to a nearby gas well, but when they found that useless, the two decided to wait in the water. Coen, who was a very slim man, quickly began to shiver, so Henderson attempted to distract his friend with conversation. They talked and talked for hours.

We talked about stuff that I'll never talk about. We discussed things and discussed life, Henderson said. We discussed families. We just tried to keep ourselves occupied.

By night time, Henderson and Coen took turns laying on top of each other's chests in an attempt to conserve body heat. They also tied their life jackets together to keep them warmer, but it also assured that neither would drift away from the other in the dark.

The two men tried to sleep, but Coen had begun hallucinating, which made Henderson worry for his friend. He tried to keep Coen's arms and legs moving to keep him warm, and even goaded him into getting angry by calling him a sissy. But as the sun came up, Coen was not looking good. He took a long time to wake up, and when he did, he attempted to light a cigarette that wasn't there.

I came to the realization that one of us may not make it or that both of us may not make it, Henderson said. I just felt helpless sitting there with him.

At about 3 p.m. on Friday, Henderson and Coen drifted towards a manned rig, but Coen wasn't keeping his head above water. Henderson realized that his friend needed help, so he told Coen to kick to the rig as he swam and pulled his friend behind him, but Coen was unresponsive. Henderson told him to kick, and Coen thought he was, but he was in fact sideways.

After about an hour of this, at about 4 p.m., Henderson made one of the biggest decisions of his life. He would try to save both of their lives, but he would need to leave his friend.

This is the last-ditch effort, but I'm going to go for help or you're not going to make it, Henderson told Coen.

I understand, Coen responded. He also gave Henderson one last set of instructions: Kiss them babies for me.

Henderson cut the strap, and he left his friend. After about two hours of swimming, Henderson was feeling frustrated. He had lost his sense of direction, and he was very tired. He decided to roll onto his back and float to give his body a break. He passed out and woke up at about 7 p.m. that night. When he awoke, he saw another rig in the distance.

Praying for strength, Henderson swam and swam, spotting crystal trees in the water but reminding himself that there were no trees. At about 2 a.m., he swam past a blinking light, which gave him enough energy to push on toward the rig.

Finally, early in the morning, Henderson slowly pulled himself out of the water and climbed the rig's barnacle-infested ladder.

I'm here. I'm on a derrick, Henderson said to the wind.

Henderson managed to find a galley with some food and water, as well as a phone. He called his wife and told her to call the Coast Guard, and send them to rig 633A.

It was over 50 miles from where we went in the water, Henderson said.

When the Coast Guard arrived, he told them where he and Coen had parted, and hoped that he'd made it this far into the night. But two hours later, Henderson sat in the Coast Guard's dispatch room when he heard the news through the radio: They had found a fisherman's body in a life jacket.

Later in the hospital, Henderson saw his friend for the last time. He apologized to Coen, asking him for forgiveness. He promised him that he would fulfill his wishes and look after his girls.

I felt like a part of me had died out there, Henderson said.

Coen's daughter Ashley said their family is trying to take comfort in the fact that Ed died doing what he loved most: fishing with his friend Ken Henderson. Before he left for his fishing trip, Ashley brought him his cellphone charger and a parting message.

Once again, I told him, 'I love you,' Ashley Coen told the Conroe Courier. I'm glad those were the last words we said.

Henderson told Ashley that her dad kept talking about his daughters and granddaughters as he fought for his life in the freezing waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

We know we were loved very much, she said. I know he was cold and weak ... I'm thankful Uncle Ken is alive, because he's a link.