A US Coast Guard member who took part in the remarkable rescue of a passenger who fell off a Carnival cruise ship said the man was just seconds away from death — after floating alone for over 15 hours in the Gulf of Mexico.
“He had no energy. He had nothing left to give,” Richard Hoefle, an aviation survival technician, told WWL-TV.
“My best guess is that he had between a minute and 30 seconds left before we lost him completely.”
Hoefle was on duty on Thanksgiving night when he received word that a passenger on the Carnival Valor had plunged into the Gulf of Mexico.
Dramatic video captured the rescuer plucking an exhausted James Grimes some 20 miles south of Louisiana’s Southwest Pass after the crew of a cargo ship spotted him treading water.
The Guardsman handed Grimes a rescue sling before he was hoisted onto the hovering MH-60 Jayhawk chopper, which carried three other crew members.
“Once I handed that to him, he just collapsed into it. He didn’t have … he couldn’t talk to me. I was able to get his name and the cruise ship he had fallen off of,” Hoefle told the news outlet.
With water temperature of about 70 degrees, Grimes was battling hypothermia.
“It’s hard to keep your mind in the right place, and then to throw that Hail Mary last couple of minutes of waving, swinging a sock around, anything to make himself more visible to us, that’s survival,” Hoefle said.
“He just had an incredible will to survive. And he did whatever he had to do,” he said.
Hoefle described the various ways people react when rescued at sea.
“Some people break down and cry, some people are in shock, and they don’t know what’s going on, some people are ecstatic and they act a little crazy because they are so happy to be out of the situation that they are in,” he told WWL-TV.
“That was a one in a million and we got it done,” the coast guard member added.
The mission to rescue Grimes involved an area the size of Rhode Island, Hoefle said.
The account of the heroic rescue comes after it was reported that Grimes had gotten in trouble for vaping and was likely drunk when he went missing from the Cozumel, Mexico-bound ship.
Valor passenger Whitney Gaines told the Daily Mail that she heard his family talking about him during breakfast the morning after he disappeared.
They talked about how “he kept getting in trouble for vaping in non-designated smoke areas, because there’s only one area where you can really go smoke,” she told the news outlet.
“I think they were kind of alluding to the fact that he stepped out to go somewhere,” Gaines said, adding that Grimes’ family believed he had been intoxicated.
The Coast Guard told WWL-TV that its New Orleans unit is one of the most active for rescues, adding that this October and November have been one of its busiest times.