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Man Swims For Hours In Storm To Rescue His Family After Boat Capsizes

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John Franklin Riggs
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Mary Bubala joined WJZ in December 2003. She now anchors the 4-4:30...
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DEAL ISLAND, Md. (WJZ) — The family of the Maryland man who swam five hours to save them is speaking out only to CBS News. They describe a harrowing ordeal as he swam and they clung to a disabled boat in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay.

Mary Bubala has their story.

It was around 7 p.m. and land was miles away.

“I pretty much knew from the get-go what kinda trouble we were in,” said John Riggs.

It was getting dark and a storm was rolling in.

“John looked at me and he said, `Should I swim for it?’ and I looked at him and I said, `Yeah,’” said his sister, Contessa Riggs.

It was a life or death decision in rough seas.

“Probably two or three-foot seas. Enough to keep you from gettin’ your breath right,” Riggs said. “With it smashing in your face as you were trying to swim, that was a problem.”

He didn’t know how far the shoreline was. Behind him were four members of his family—his sister Contessa, her three-year-old son Conrad and their nine-year-old niece Emily. They gripped the bow tightly as they bobbed in the cold water, getting stung by jellyfish.

“It was about staying calm, being reassuring,” Contessa Riggs said.

“Just thinking about when we could drink hot chocolate and get warm, put a blanket around me,” said Emily Holt.

Riggs finally reached land at 1 a.m., five hours after leaving his family behind. He made it to a woman’s front door and they called 911.

“Are you on the boat now?” the operator asked.
“No, I’m on shore,” Riggs replied.
“You’re what?” the operator said.
“I’ve been swimming since sundown and got to shore,” Riggs said.

The next morning, seven and a half hours after their boat had capsized, they were rescued.

“There’s a part of it that doesn’t seem real, like seems like maybe it was just a dream or even worse, that this was just a dream and I’m still out on that boat holding on,” Contessa said.

Police say life jackets played a key role in the happy ending.

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