A Man Fell From a Cruise Ship and Survived in Gulf of Mexico's Rain, Wind and Waves For Hours
"All I could see was a fin."
And you think you've experienced a vacation from hell: A 28-year-old man fell off the side of a cruise ship into the Gulf of Mexico and treaded water for hours, battling rain, 20-knot winds, and three-foot waves, until he was rescued. James Grimes, 28, was on a five-day cruise with his parents and siblings. His family had last seen him the night before Thanksgiving, around 11 p.m. But by 10:45 on Thanksgiving morning, when there was no sign of him, the family notified the crew. He was rescued from the water by the Coast Guard about nine hours later. "This case is certainly extraordinary," Lt. Seth Gross, who managed the search and rescue operation for the Coast Guard, told the New York Times. "The survival instinct, the will to survive is just crazy." Read on to find out what happened.
On Friday, Grimes told Good Morning America that he didn't remember falling from the cruise ship and doesn't know how he ended up in the water. He said he lost consciousness and came to the water. Grimes said he'd had drinks on board the ship but wasn't drunk. His sister said they were in the ship's bar on Thanksgiving eve before Grimes left to find a restroom at around 11 p.m., an event Grimes doesn't remember.
Grimes may have treaded water for more than 15 hours before he was rescued. He told GMA that he focused on staying afloat and was "dead set on making it out of there … I was never accepting that this is it—this is going to be the end of my life." As he battled fatigue, he saw some sort of animal in the water. "It came up on me really quick," he said. "And I went under, and I could see it. And it wasn't a shark, I don't believe. But it had more like a flat mouth, and it came up and bumped one of my legs, and I kicked it with the other leg. It scared me, not knowing what it was … all I could see was a fin." Coast Guard officials said bull sharks and blacktip sharks are common in that area of the Gulf of Mexico.
Grimes' family reported him missing around noon on Thanksgiving. In the water, which was about 70 degrees, Grimes "started getting colder—at that time, I thought, you know, 'How much longer am I going to have to be out here?'" he said. Grimes eventually saw lights from a tanker ship and swam toward it, he told ABC. That ship's crew saw him around 8:25 p.m. and alerted the Coast Guard, which sent a helicopter to pull him from the water.
The rescuers found Grimes struggling in the water, waving and trying to keep his head above the surface. "The first thing I actually told (the Coast Guard rescuer) was, 'I don't have any clothes on,' because I didn't. I … stripped out of everything," Grimes told GMA. "He said, 'That's fine.' … I was just thinking, 'Thank you. You are like a guardian angel coming down for me.'"
When the helicopter crew lifted Grimes out of the water, he was in shock, had mild hypothermia, and was dehydrated, Lt. Gross told the New York Times. But he was in stable condition and only briefly hospitalized. Even after his ordeal, Grimes said he would still consider boarding another ship. "I might not get within 10 foot of the rails, but I definitely would be open to go on another cruise, because I really didn't get to go on this one," he told Good Morning America.