Man Swims 5 Hours to Save Family Who Clung to Boat - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Man Swims 5 Hours to Save Family Who Clung to Boat

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(Photo: WBOC) (Photo: WBOC)

DEAL ISLAND, Md.- A family of four clung to a capsized boat in the Tangier Sound, hanging on for their lives, as 46-year-old John Riggs, of Salisbury, swam five hours late Tuesday night against strong waves in the middle of a storm for help.

"It wasn't an option, it just had to be done because they had been out there all night," said Riggs. He told WBOC, he swam because the lives of his father, sister and young niece and nephew depended on it.

Riggs' father, whose name also is John Riggs, is a 70-year-old retired commercial waterman from Salisbury, who organized the fishing trip. Also aboard the boat 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.

"Just not knowing what's going on with them while I was gone," said Riggs. He added, "It was getting nasty and blowing harder. And not knowing if we [rescue crews and Riggs] would be able to find them when we got back out there."

So he did what instinct told him to do, and didn't look back.

"It's an amazing story," said Deal Island Fire Chief Donald Ford. "The man's a hero. He swam from Haines Point and ended up, when he came to shore, at Hall Point."

Riggs fought "some of the worse tides in the Chesapeake Bay," according to Ford.

After three miles, Riggs reached the shoreline and climbed rocks to get help at the first house he saw.

"He said he sent up a little prayer and he said all of a sudden my feet hit the sandy bottom," said Carol Wood, of Chance, who says she and her roommate, Angela Byrd, woke up to her dog barking at one o'clock Wednesday morning.

"I looked around the corner and there was a man standing on my deck," said Wood.

She said Riggs stood soaking wet and barefoot.

She said she knew something was wrong because, "he kept saying 'I just need to save my family. I just need to save my family.' "

Riggs told Wood his family was adrift at sea and "holding on for their dear lives."

"I said you have come to the right house because I know exactly who to call," said Wood. She called Ford, who couldn't believe what had happened.

"It is a long swim for anybody in that kind of tide and that kind of wind," said Ford. "I don't know of too many people who survive Tangier Sound in a flood tide like that."

Riggs can't explain how he did it, but did say his only thoughts were of saving his family.

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