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Man Swims For Hours To Save Family After Boat Capsizes

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John Franklin Riggs

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SOMERSET COUNTY, Md. (WJZ) — It’s an amazing tale of survival and heroism on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. A man braved deadly tides to save his family, who were adrift in the bay.

Kai Jackson has more.

A family of four hung on for dear life after their boat capsized near Deal Island in Somerset County. The frightening ordeal ended well after the heroism of John Riggs, who swam five hours in the middle of a storm for help.

“It wasn’t an option. It just had to be done because they had been out there all night,” he said.

Riggs says he swam because the lives of his father, sister and young niece and nephew depended on it.

“Just not knowing what’s going on with them while I was gone. It was getting nasty and blowing harder all the time. Not knowing if we would be able to find them when we got back out there,” he said.

So he did what instinct told him to do and didn’t look back.

“It’s an amazing story. The man’s a hero. He swam from right here, which is Hanes Point, and ended up—when he came to shore—right here at what they call Hall Point [dealing with] probably some of the worst tides in the Chesapeake,” said Donald Ford.

After three miles, Riggs reached the shoreline and climbed some rocks. He got help at the first house he saw.

“He said he sent up a little prayer and he said, `All of a sudden, my feet hit the sandy bottom,’” said Carol Wood.

It was the home of Carol Wood, who says she woke up to her dog barking at 1 a.m. Wednesday.

“I come out, I looked around the corner and there was a man standing on my deck,” Wood said.

She says Riggs stood soaking wet and barefoot.

“And he kept saying, `I just need to save my family, I just need to save my family,’” she said.

Riggs told Wood his family was stranded at sea and “holding on for their dear lives.”

“I said, `You have come to the right house because I know exactly who to call,’” Wood said.

She called Deal Island Fire Chief Donald Ford.

“It is a long swim for anybody in that kind of tide and that kind of wind. I mean, I don’t know of too many people who survives Tangier Sound in a flood tide like that,” Ford said.

All of Riggs’ family members were rescued and are in good health, including a three-year-old boy and a nine-year-old girl.

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