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NORFOLK--Norfolk-based frigate USS Elrod on drug patrol rescued four people from their sinking boat in the Caribbean Sea on Tuesday night.

Commander Jack Kilman says the three Colombians and one Honduran were clinging to the bow of their ship, which was three to four feet above the water.

Rescue crews went out on a rigid-hulled inflatable boat and pulled them to safety.

He says he thinks they'd been in the water for three days.

'They were in very bad shape. They could not climb up a ladder, so we had to load them two at a time and raise them out of the water. We couldn't even hardly hold on to them because their skin was sloughing off their bodies because they'd been in the water so long,' he described.

Without aircraft, he says the men likely wouldn't have been found.

'That type of vessel doesn't ping on radar. It's fiberglass and it was more than 200 miles from the nearest point of land,' CDR Kilman said.

He could only speculate about what happened.

'We're down here to stop illicit drug trafficking and I wouldn't be surprised if that's what those guys were doing. They were in a typical go-fast vessel, an open-bowed 30-40 foot boat made for high speeds,' he explained.

CDR> Kilman says his ship returned to the scene, but the boat was submerged.

A helicopter from Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Light 60 flew the four to a hospital in Colombia.

USS Elrod is on patrol in support of Operation Martillo, targeting illicit trafficking routes in coastal waters along the Central American isthmus.

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