The U.S. Coast Guard is searching the South Florida coastline after three Cuban refugees were pulled from rough seas on Thursday. The refugees say they had been at sea for eight days in inner tubes trying to reach the United States.

In a dramatic scene caught on local television stations, a Coast Guard diver jumped from a helicopter to rescue a woman in an inner tube who appeared on the verge of drowning.

Two other men, also in inner tubes were pulled ashore by beachgoers after they appeared too exhausted to overcome heavy swells and reach land.

The incident occurred just north of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Coast Guard Petty Officer Ryan Doss says the three Cubans were lucky to survive.

"It reiterates the point of how dangerous a voyage it is - and the risk people are taking with their lives when they choose to take to the seas in vessels such as inner tubes," he said.

Under U.S. policy Cuban refugees who reach land are allowed to stay while those who are picked up at sea are sent home.