Two Chinese fishermen rescued from the Pacific are alert and trying to communicate after suffering second- and third-degree burns from an explosion on their vessel far off Mexico's coast, a San Diego surgeon said after they were airlifted to California.
The men - who asked not to be identified - were in critical but stable condition on Tuesday, a day after their arrival, and were being evaluated to see if they required surgery or could go home within the week, said Dr Raul Coimbra, the chief of trauma surgery at the burn centre at the University of California in San Diego.
Doctors found no trauma injuries and the burns were not life-threatening, Coimbra said, adding that they covered the upper and lower extremities. One man is about 20 per cent covered in burns, and the other is about 8 per cent covered.
He said the men, who are in their 30s, also suffered injuries from smoke inhalation. The two were among 17 crew members believed aboard a Chinese fishing vessel that caught fire after an explosion and sank about 1,770 kilometres off Mexico's Baja peninsula.
Two men died, six are missing and seven others were rescued in good condition.
The two in San Diego were doing remarkably well considering they spent days on a ship with their injuries, in pain and unable to get full treatment, Coimbra said.
"You can imagine the amount of trauma these individuals have gone through," he said, adding later: "They are alert. They are awake, and they are trying to communicate with us. And I think they will do well here."
A Venezuelan fishing boat spotted the lifeboat carrying 11 Chinese crew members - including two who later died - and called for help on Friday.
Responding to the call, airmen from the US Air Force's 563rd Rescue Group parachuted into the water on Saturday afternoon and used inflatable boats to reach the Venezuelan vessel.
Rescuers stabilised the burn victims before putting each into metal baskets on Monday that were connected to two helicopters by a steel cable.
Crews wrenched the baskets up to the aircraft, and rescuers loaded them on to the helicopters. They then flew to the closest Mexican city, Cabo San Lucas, where they were put on an aircraft and flown to Naval Station North Island in San Diego. They arrived at around 7.30 pm on Monday and were taken by ambulance to the hospital.
Pilots flew for nine hours over the Pacific Ocean to recover the fishermen.
Officials say they still do not know what happened on the Chinese boat to cause the explosion.
The two bodies of the fishermen who died and seven others in good condition were put on a Chinese-flagged vessel to be taken to China.