Cork fisherman speaks of Alaska overboard ordeal

James McCarthy endured 25 minutes in water at 3 degrees

James McCarthy, who can’t swim, believes trapped air in his rain gear kept him buoyant while the rest of the crew attempted a rescue with a life ring. Photograph: Getty

James McCarthy, who can’t swim, believes trapped air in his rain gear kept him buoyant while the rest of the crew attempted a rescue with a life ring. Photograph: Getty

Mon, Mar 25, 2013, 22:30

The Irish fisherman who survived almost 30 minutes in icy water after falling overboard in the Gulf of Alaska has spoken about the ordeal.

James McCarthy, 35, who is originally from Ringaskiddy, Co. Cork, spent about 25 minutes in water with a temperature of 3 degrees after he fell over the side of his brother’s 58ft FV Stella in the Shelikof Strait two weeks ago.

“I was standing in the middle of the back deck and I lifted my foot to go from the middle of the deck to the port side of the boat where the control lever was,” he told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland . “As I lifted my foot the net reel was still on… and one of the meshers of the mid-water net caught my foot and lifted me up over the net reel and kind of spat me out of the backside of the boat.”

Mr McCarthy, who can’t swim, believes trapped air in his rain gear kept him buoyant while the rest of the crew attempted a rescue.

His brother, Peter, took the boat out of gear but Mr McCarthy was unable to return to the vessel.

A crew mate “threw me a life ring and got it right on the money, it was the best throw I’ve ever seen… And once I grabbed a hold of it my training kicked in, I tried not to move, tried to take deep breaths,” he said.

The crew were “doing everything they could” to try to reach him but he kept getting pushed from the boat. Then the sea changed “and I couldn’t take a breath without taking water”. He put his left leg through the life ring “hoping that when they got back to me they’d at least be able to recover me or recover my body.”

He reckons he was under water for about two or three minutes but “in cold water you still have a chance even if you’re not breathing”.

Eventually the crew got him to the side of the boat and pulled him up on deck. They got him breathing again and brought him into the galley where “they kept me warm and kept me alert and kept me alive, gave me the will to fight and did an amazing job keeping me warm, filling hot water bottles and stuffing them around my body in important places and rubbing me and all I wanted to do was go to sleep.”

His brother “was up and down the stairs many times, liaising with the coastguard and coming down to check on me and kept saying you just fight, you keep fighting”.