Cruise ship passenger who fell overboard recounts his harrowing experience

(CNN) — When James Michael Grimes fell overboard from a Carnival cruise ship in the Gulf of Mexico, it was the sheer will to live along with the strength of God that kept him alive, he told CNN, after swimming for what he believes was the longest of 15 hours.

Grimes, 28, who describes himself as a “regular guy” who likes to hunt, fish and be outdoors, was rescued late on Thanksgiving and told CNN he feels ” blessed” after being saved.

The Alabama man was aboard the Carnival Valor with 18 members of his family during the week of the Thanksgiving holiday. It was the night before Thanksgiving when Grimes, who was at a bar on board with her sister, went to use a bathroom around 11 p.m., her sister recalled, according to a Carnival statement to CNN.

“It’s a miracle,” says the young man who managed to survive after falling off the cruise ship

The last thing he remembers before regaining consciousness in the water was going to listen to live music aboard the boat with the family, he said, and he doesn’t remember where, or how, he fell off the boat. He had been drinking at the Valor, but he says he wasn’t drunk, according to statements made to ABC earlier.
“I tried to stay as positive as possible from the moment I came to and regained consciousness, I just remember thinking at the time, ‘Wow, it’s a miracle I haven’t died already,'” Grimes said.

Grimes said she is not able to float, and attributed her survival to her faith and positive attitude, adding that she even created songs to keep her spirits up.

He swam between two schools of jellyfish and watched the sun rise while in the water. She said that she lost almost 20 pounds during the experience.

“The Lord gave me the will to live. It’s a miracle,” he told CNN. “I was not going to give up at any point and say ‘this is it, this is the end’. It never got to that. I was determined to swim until my arms and legs couldn’t hold my body anymore,” he said.

“It was like a 20-hour baptism,” he added.

He also battled confusion, exhaustion, and a creature. “It came at me very quickly. I went under and could see it. And it wasn’t a shark, I don’t think. But it had more of a flat mouth, and it came up and hit 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,” he told ABC.

At another point, Grimes grabbed a floating stick, which he said “looked like bamboo,” and started chewing on it. “He gave me some kind of taste in my mouth that wasn’t salty water,” he told ABC.

Grimes also said that he spoke to God during his time in the water.

“Lord, my worst fear is drowning. I don’t know why you put me here on this test, but I know you’re going to get me out of it,” he recalls saying. “It wasn’t a matter of if I was saved or if they found me, it was just a matter of when, and I just had to keep swimming until they did.”

Grimes does not rule out re-embarking

Grimes’s family had reported her missing at noon on Thanksgiving Day. Finally, the young man saw the lights of a tanker and swam towards it, according to what he told ABC.

The ship’s crew spotted it around 8:25 p.m. and alerted the Coast Guard, which sent a helicopter crew to lift it out of the water, the service said.

The Coast Guardsman who rescued him looked like a guardian angel coming down from the helicopter, Grimes told CNN.

USCG search and rescue coordinator Lt. Seth Gross told CNN that if Grimes was in the water for 15 hours that’s the longest he’s heard of and that it’s “one of those Thanksgiving miracles.”

“The fact that it was able to stay afloat and above the surface of the water for such a long period of time is something that cannot be taken for granted and certainly something that will stay with me forever,” Gross said, adding that the case demonstrated the extent to which “the will to live is something that must be taken into account in every search and rescue case.”

Grimes is now planning a trip to New Orleans to meet the Coast Guard crew who rescued him, adding that he would not rule out another cruise in the future.

“If that’s the worst thing I have to go through again, I think I’ll be fine,” Grimes said.

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