Scott Thompson, a commercial fisherman, pulled his boat out into the Santa Barbara Canal around 5 p.m. on January 26. Five hours of swimming later, he found himself on an oil rig without a boat.
Thompson was not fishing that day, but rather clearing his mind after recently losing a close friend.
On the way back, he got up off the side of the boat, but choppy waters got hold of the ship. Thompson lost his balance and fell. This left him stranded in the water and watched his boat drift away. He tried to swim and catch him, but without success.
“I thought, great, this is how I’m going to die,” Thompson, who was wearing just shorts and a t-shirt in the freezing water, told CNN affiliate KABC. So he started swimming in the hope of finding safety.
Along the way, Thompson encountered a seal, which seemed like a sense of hope at the time. “The seal was going underwater, and it came and nudged me,” Thompson told KABC. “Did he know, like hey, this human’s in trouble; hey, keep it up man?”
Finally, around 10 p.m., Thompson found his way to the Gail oil rig.
TowBoatUS Captain Carson Shevitz told CNN on Saturday that it was one of many platforms off the coast and was lit up at night.
“Fortunately, he was successful,” Shevitz said, “we’ve had several other cases where people just don’t, and we never find them.”
“I FINALLY made it to one of the pylons and clung to it for life,” Thompson said on TowBoatUS Instagram.
The rig crew helped him up and called the U.S. Coast Guard, Shevitz said. He was then taken ashore and taken to the nearest hospital, where he was treated for hypothermia, according to KABC.
The next day, Thompson joined the crew of the TowBoatUS Ventura to retrieve his boat. The ship’s tracking device led them to its exact location: stuck on a rocky beach.
“We got there in time to give it back to him in one piece,” Shevitz said. “It will be ready for him to be back on the water shortly.”
Shevitz can’t believe how lucky Thompson was to survive, given the magnitude of the situation. “It’s pretty amazing that he was able to hold on,” he said.
In the Instagram comment, Thompson shared his appreciation and thanks to the crew members who helped him. “I hope my story teaches someone a lesson and no one ever has to go through what I did,” he said.