Passenger who fell from cruise ship treaded water for 20 hours to survive

WATCH: Coast Guard rescuer says they almost lost man who fell off cruise ship

A passenger who fell from a cruise ship into the Gulf of Mexico late last month says he has no recollection of how he ended up in the water.

James Michael Grimes, 28, said he spent a harrowing 15 to 20 hours treading water before he was rescued the day before American Thanksgiving.

Grimes spoke with several news outlets last week, sharing details of his ordeal.

He told ABC News that he and 18 other family members were on a cruise to Cozumel, Mexico aboard the Carnival ship Valor. They were having some drinks on the evening of Nov. 23, celebrating his win of an on-board air guitar contest, when he told his sister he was going to the washroom.

The moments after are unclear. He told CBS News that he didn’t feel inebriated that night, but he has no recollection of falling into the water.

“When I came to, regained consciousness, I was in the water with no boat in sight,” he told CBS.

Grimes said he’s usually not capable of floating, so he was surprised to find himself bobbing in the ocean.

“I was trying to stay as positive as I could from the moment I came to, and regain consciousness, I can just remember right then thinking, ‘Wow, it’s a miracle that I’m not already dead,'” he said in an interview with CNN.

The next day, Grimes’ sister reported him missing after the family realized he hadn’t returned to his cabin.

Meanwhile, Grimes said he was fighting rip currents and possibly sea animals while trying to stay afloat.

“It came up on me really quick,” he told ABC of an encounter with an unknown animal in the water.

“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.”

At another point, Grimes said he began eating a stick that floated by – something that “looked like bamboo.”

“It gave some type of flavour in my mouth other than saltwater,” he told ABC.

As the sun set that night, he spotted the lights from a passing tanker ship and began to swim toward it. He took off his socks and waved them over his head in an attempt to get the attention of the crew.

“I’d done taken off my socks and everything and was just waving them around my head, trying to do something where they could see me, and when that light finally hit me, somehow I heard, ‘We got him,’ and I seen a guy coming down from a helicopter and … right then I thought, ‘Man I seen the light,'” he told CBS, adding that the helicopter circled the tanker two or three times before spotting him.

Richard Hoefle, a coast guard aviation survival technician for the New Orleans division, and the swimmer who rescued Grimes, told local news station WWL-TV that Grimes “had about 30 seconds to a minute left” before he would have died in the water.

Hoefle told CBS News that Grimes had an “incredible will to survive.”

“He didn’t have flotation (devices), he didn’t have radio or flares. He just had to do anything that he could with what he had, which was nothing.”

Grimes credits his survival to his faith, telling CNN he feels “blessed to be here.”

“The Lord gave me the will to live. It’s a miracle,” he told the outlet. “I wasn’t going to give up at any point in time just say, this is it, this is the end. It never came to that. I was determined to swim until my arms and legs could not hold my body up anymore.

“It was like a 20-hour baptism.”

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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