Man swims for five hours through jellyfish-infested waters after his boat capsizes leaving four family members - including his 70-year-old father, and three-year-old nephew - stranded
- Fishing party consisted of Ms Riggs and four other family members
- The boat took on too much water during a storm and toppled over
- Firefighters and the U.S. Coast Guard helped rescue stranded boatersJohn Franklin Riggs left family members clinging to a capsized boat in a sea of stinging jellyfish.
After swimming for five hours and climbed over rocks at the shoreline in the pitch black to reach help for his family who was still out at sea.
Off the coast, his sister tried to keep her family alive as they clung to their boat that had capsized.
Contessa Riggs, 43, of Washington D.C. was fishing off the coast of Deal Island, Maryland when her brother, John Franklin Riggs, her 70-year old father, 9-year-old niece and 3-year-old son, were caught up in a thunder storm.
Their boat was only 16 feet long and Riggs and her brother immediately knew they were in trouble.
Hero: 46-year-old John Riggs, of Salisbury, swam five hours against strong waves in the middle of a storm for help
'It was sundown. The water suddenly became very choppy and a wave crashed into the boat, filling the boat with water,' Ms Riggs told ABC News.
'John started to bucket the water out and I grabbed life jackets and made sure everybody had one, but then there was another wave. In a second our boat was upside down in the water,' Ms. Riggs said.
When their boat capsized, Riggs' brother and father swam under to get lifejackets.
'My father wears a pacemaker, and we had very young children with us, so we made sure everybody stayed near the boat,' said Ms. Riggs.
Rescued: Emily Horn, 9, was among those saved from a capsized boat
'I had my son between me and the siding. John did the same thing for my niece,' Riggs continued. 'The children took turns sitting on the boat.'
The family clung to the boat for an hour and a half in cold water infested by jellyfish and sea nettles.
Contessa Riggs said the boat capsized about two miles from shore, and drifted about five miles in a parallel direction when the tide turned.
John Riggs' father, whose name also is John Riggs, is a 70-year-old retired commercial waterman from Salisbury, Maryland, who organized the fishing trip.
Also aboard the vessel were the waterman's daughter, Contessa Riggs, and her 3-year-old son, Conrad Drake, both of Washington; and his granddaughter, 9-year-old Emily Horn, a fourth-grader visiting from San Francisco.
Man on a mission: John Riggs swam for five and a half hours to shore to raise the alarm and get help
'There was only a little bit of light left, and the storm was still in the distance. We could see the lightening hit the water and we knew there would not be another boat that late in the evening,' Riggs explained.
'It was so cold. My son was shivering and shivering and shivering against me. He kept repeating 'I don't like this,' 'I don't like this,' 'This is no fun',' she remembered.
Riggs knew that nobody was going to start looking for them until the next day, so she and John decided they had to act.
'Our family wasn't expecting us back until tomorrow, and we didn't think we'd be able to make it that long,' Riggs said.
'John and I looked at each other and he said, 'Should I try it?' I knew he was talking about swimming to shore. So I told him to try it. But we had no idea if he would make it to shore,' she added.
The sun had set by the time Rigg's brother left his father, niece, nephew, and sister on the capsized boat. He swam for almost five hours, reaching shore around 1 a.m.
Near tragedy: The boat overturned two miles from short. After calling 911, John Riggs went on a rescue boat with volunteer firefighters to find his family in the pitch black
'John made it to the beach but he was so tired, he could not walk. So he crawled to the nearest house he saw. Luckily they had dogs, which woke the family up. And even luckier for us, that family had the personal number for the fire chief,' Riggs said.
Meanwhile, Ms. Riggs and her family had been clinging to their rocking boat for almost eight hours.
'It was absolutely horrible,' Riggs recalled. 'Our legs were getting stung over and over again by the jellyfish. We had cuts and bruises. My son was crying. Waves kept crashing over our heads.'
Riggs started to worry about her father.
'He had been in the water the longest. And I realized that if anything happened to him, I'd have to choose between helping him and leaving the kids and staying with the kids. It was such a hard choice to make peace with.'
But Ms. Riggs found ways to keep everybody's spirits up.
'I kept saying, 'They're coming for us, we're going to get rescued, don't worry,'' she said. 'We talked about stupid things like eating ice cream and watching movies.'
Back on dry land: On the boat were Riggs¿ 70-year-old father, a 9-year-old niece, Riggs¿ sister, Contessa Riggs, and her 3-year-old son
It was as they were talking that she noticed lights in the horizon.
'Suddenly we could see the boats and a helicopter and we just started screaming and waving.'
'There were a few storms in the area, and the boat turned upside down,' said Sgt. Brian Albert at the Maryland Natural Resources Police. 'Mr. Riggs swam to shore. These people are very lucky. No one was injured.'
A Maryland State Police helicopter hovered above the 16-foot Carolina Skiff as firefighters from Deal Island, Mount Vernon and Fairmount in Somerset County and Westside in Wicomico County pulled alongside. The U.S. Coast Guard also was on the scene, Mr Albert said.
Volunteer firefighters pulled Riggs and her family onto a boat but it was only until they were taken to a second boat that she was reunited with her brother.
'It was the most amazing feeling. I ran up to John and said you are my hero.'
The family is safely back on shore, with no significant injuries.
Perhaps someone would have located the fishing party, eventually, even if Riggs had not swam for help.
What is certain is that wearing life jackets saved their lives, Mr Albert said.
'It is lucky they put life jackets on,' he said. 'The life jackets are what saved their lives.'
Ms. Riggs' 9-year-old niece, Emily, called her uncle a 'real hero.'
'Everybody is fine. But really, there were some very beautiful moments in the water. We were terrified, but the sky had never been clearer and we could see all the stars in the Milky Way. There was no light pollution,' Ms Riggs said.
'The water was glowing blue with the fluorescent jelly fish.'
'I'm so grateful to the first responders that came and helped us out. I was so happy to see them and I love all of them. And I am so proud of my family, especially my brother. We survived together.'
Friends and family are taking care of the survivors.
'Everybody has just been great,' Ms Riggs said.
'My friends have been cooking for us,' she said, 'They said I shouldn't have to worry about dinner after all of this. And I think they're right.'