A Long Island lobsterman who spent 12 hours floating in the Atlantic Ocean while clinging to his rubber boots is back in the embrace of his family.
John Aldridge was embraced by relatives when he arrived on Thursday afternoon at his parents' home in Oakdale, New York. Aldridge said he never gave up hope.
The Montauk resident was not wearing a life jacket when he fell overboard around early on Wednesday.
"These boots saved my life," Aldridge told Newsday. "I put one under each arm and I said, 'I'm going to live. I can do this'."
The ordeal began while he was on watch duty aboard the Anna Mary, a 44-foot lobster boat out of Montauk.
He was trying to move a cooler when the handle snapped off, sending him “straight out the back of the boat” around 3:30am local time on Wednesday, he said.
Aldridge, 45, said he spotted boats for several hours but they did not see him. He said he also saw “the whole gamut of sea life coming at me,” and feared a shark attack.
The crew notified the Coast Guard that he was missing around 6:30am on Wednesday.
Coast Guard crews from across New England and commercial fishing crews coordinated a search that covered 1,250 square kilometres.
A Coast Guard helicopter out of Cape Cod finally spotted Aldridge and hoisted him up to safety at around 3pm.
He was taken to a hospital in Falmouth, Massachusetts, for treatment of dehydration, exposure and hypothermia. He was released on Thursday morning.
His father said his son sounded well when he spoke to him briefly on the phone.
“He's still pretty sore, a lot of sunburn, a lot of rash. Using his boots as a support, he's got a real rash under his arms,” he said, adding that his son took off his boots, turned them upside down and pushed them down to keep the air in “and that kept him somehow buoyant”.
He described the ocean conditions as “rolling” waves of about 4 to 5 feet.
“It's unbelievable the relief that we felt yesterday when we got the news” he was safe, said the elder Aldridge.
“The Coast Guard notified us every two hours of the progress they were making. I can't say enough about them.”
Joe Klinker, a Coast Guard spokesman, said: “This ending had a lot of people shaking hands and smiling.”