Man Swims 5 Hours after Boat Capsizes in Tangier Sound

Image courtesy WBOC and shows the side of the 16-foot Carolina Skiff that a family of four clung to for five hours.

Angela Byrd, a resident of Deal Island, MD, was awoken at 1:30 a.m on Wednesday morning by the sound of her dog barking. When she went to look outside, she found John Franklin Riggs, 46, standing outside. He was soaking wet and exhausted, but he said he needed help for his family.

Riggs had been out in the Tangier Sound on a 16-foot Carolina Skiff with his 70-year old father, sister, niece and nephew when the boat was caught up in a storm and capsized. Riggs left the family (his nephew is only 3-years old) while he took a life jacket and started swimming to shore. "It wasn't an option, it just had to be done because they had been out there all night," Riggs told WBOC. "Just not knowing what's going on with them while I was was getting nasty and blowing harder." Riggs swam between Haines Point and Hall Point, where he came shore and found Byrd.

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Byrd's 9-11 call alerted the Maryland State Police, U.S. Coast Guard, and local fire departments. After five hours of clinging to the side of the boats, Contessa Riggs spotted a search and rescue helicopter and search boats. "I've never been so happy to see search boats in my life," she said. The family had been clinging to the side of the boat since sundown, getting stung by sea nettles. No injuries were reported.

"These people are very lucky," Sgt. Brian Albert said. "They put life jackets on and the life jackets are what saved their lives."