An Irish fisherman who survived a fall into one of the world’s most treacherous oceans has spoken of his nightmare ordeal.
Cork native James McCarthy was sure he was going to die after he fell overboard from his brother’s trawler in the Gulf of Alaska.
The 36-year-old was convinced he ‘had breathed his last’ and was ‘prepared to die’ after he spent 25 minutes without a floatation device or survival suit, in near-freezing water.
The Irish Examiner reports that experts said the survival time should only have been about 15 minutes.
James told the paper that as he felt life slipping away, his brother Peter and fellow crewman Makodo Odlin did everything they could to save him.
McCarthy said: “Mak and my brother will be my heroes for the rest of my life. They did the best job they could. They couldn’t have done anything better.
“Why I’m back? I don’t know. I suppose my brother just wouldn’t let me go.”
The crew were fishing on Peter’s boat, the 17m Stella, in the Shelikof Strait, a treacherous area of ocean featured in TV’s Deadliest Catch series.
The report says they were hauling 50-ton of pollock at around 5pm when one of James’s legs got caught in the net and he was pulled up towards the net reel and flung head first into the frigid ocean.
McCarthy added: “There was no shock, no instantaneous loss of breath. I suppose the adrenalin just kicked in. Panic didn’t set in. I just knew what I needed to do.”
The paper adds that James, a non swimmer, was pushed by the boat wash away from the vessel as the mayday call ‘man overboard’ went out.
His older brother John was among several skippers in the Kodiak fleet who heard the distress call over the radio.
John was just leaving port but when he heard the coast guard scrambling a rescue helicopter, he decided it was best to head back to port to meet the chopper when it landed, not realising it was his own brother who was in trouble.
Back at the ship, crewman Mak threw a life-ring to James and Peter battled to turn the boat as the 50-ton bag of fish began to sink.
James says he grabbed the life-ring, took slow deep breaths, and stopped moving to conserve energy.
He said: “I could see the boat, and could see them trying to turn the boat, and Peter was yelling to hold on.
“I didn’t feel cold or anything, but the sea changed. It got choppier and I said to myself if I’m going to make it, I’ve got to do something so that they can get me, or get my body.
“I was fighting as hard as I could but I knew there was a good chance I wouldn’t make it.”
McCarthy then tied his left leg to a rope on the life-ring and pushed his leg through the ring so that, even if he drowned, his body would float. As he tired, it became more difficult to breathe.
He added: “I couldn’t take a breath without swallowing water and I started to fade. I felt my grip loosening and I proceeded to drown.
“I thought: ‘This is it. This is how you’re going to go.’ I thought: ‘Damn it — my dog is going to outlive me.’ Then I went under and blacked out.”
Peter and Mak then managed to cut the net and turn the boat towards James. As they neared, Mak tied a rope around his waist and dived in and swam 6m to grab James’s body.
Mak attached a line around James’s waist and Peter hauled him, upside down, on to the deck of the trawler.
McCarthy wasn’t breathing and had no pulse as Peter and Mak struck him hard on the chest and began CPR for five minutes before James finally gasped for air.
James said: “I asked: ‘Am I alive?’ In my head, I was gone. I had breathed my last. I knew I had. It was very confusing and I was wondering was this the next life.
“I was absolutely frozen at this stage, and my core temperature had plummeted.”
The coast guard chopper and James was rushed to Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center in a critical condition.
He said: “The doctors did a great job. And my brothers kept me going and got me fighting. Every one of them gave me the will to fight.
“They tell me I’m headed towards a full recovery. I have no problem being around the boat, or water. It’s what I do, what I’m good at, what I love.
“I’ve been fishing here for 20 years and all that training the coast guard make you do paid off.
e’re made do CPR courses, drills, and safety courses, and now we know why we do it.
“There is nothing in the world my two crewmates could have done any better to get me.”
Video of James McCarthy's rescue Discovery Channel's "Deadliest Catch":