Watch video footage of the man spotted waving his arms in the water, then lifted by helicopter.
A man who fell overboard from a Carnival cruise ship lived to tell the tale, after a US Coast Guard helicopter rescued him off the coast of New Orleans on Thanksgiving evening.
James Michael Grimes, age 28, survived nearly 20 hours treading water in the Gulf of Mexico. He told ABC's "Good Morning America" that he ate bamboo driftwood, avoided jellyfish, and fought off an unidentified large fish with a fin. According to ABC, he was in an area known to be a feeding ground for sharks.
"My worst fear is drowning," Grimes told ABC. "I was dead set on making it out of there, you know. I was never accepting that this is it, this is going to be the end of my life."
The Coast Guard shared video of the rescue, below, including footage of Grimes floundering in the sea and waving his arms.
The Coast Guard rescuer who pulled him from the water, Richard Clark Hoefle, said that when he reached Grimes, the overboard man immediately collapsed into the rescue swing.
"He had nothing left," Hoefle told ABC.
"This is an exceptionally rare case," Ryan Graves, a petty officer in public affairs with the 8th District, told The Washington Post shortly after the rescue. "It's really nothing short of a Thanksgiving miracle to be able to pick somebody up after that long in the water without any sort of flotation device."
Grimes told ABC that he does not remember falling overboard. He said he went to the bathroom, then regained consciousness at sea, "with no boat in sight."
"Cruise ships have safety barriers in all public areas that are regulated by US Coast Guard standards and prevent a guest from falling off," Matt Lupoli, a public relations officer for Carnival Cruise Line, told Insider via email.
"Guests should never climb up on the rails. The only way to go overboard is to purposefully climb up and over the safety barriers," Lupoli added.
Grimes was lucky to survive, and lucky to be found
Grimes was last seen aboard the Carnival Valor at 11 p.m. local time on November 23, when he left his sister at the ship's bar to go to the restroom, according to a statement from Carnival.
At noon the following day — Thanksgiving — the sister reported him missing, since he hadn't returned to his stateroom, according to the statement. Announcements calling for the missing passenger rang out across the ship, and staff searched the vessel for him, until a last call was made at 2 p.m., according to CNN. At 2:30 p.m., the ship reported the missing passenger to the Coast Guard.
The Coast Guard said it deployed "several rescue crews," and Carnival said the Valor "retraced its route to support the search and rescue."
Meanwhile, a bulk carrier called CRINIS was scanning the sea and spotted somebody drifting in the waters about 20 miles south of Southwest Pass, Louisiana, according the CNN. It was Grimes.
Finally, at 8:25 p.m. — nearly 22 hours after he was last seen — a helicopter lifted Grimes from the sea. Lieutenant Seth Gross, a Coast Guard search-and-rescue coordinator, told CNN that Grimes "was showing signs of hypothermia, shock, dehydration," but could walk, communicate, and identify himself.
"The fact that he was able to keep himself afloat and above the surface of the water for such an extended period of time, it's just something you can't take for granted and certainly something that'll stick with me forever," Gross told CNN.
"This case is unlike anything I've been a part of," he added.
This story has been updated with new information. It was originally published on November 25, 2022.
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