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SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (CBS/AP) — A Rhode Island man managed to tread water without a life vest for almost 11 hours after falling off his boat Tuesday night.
Joseph Gross was pulled from the water by Coast Guard rescuers just after 3:30 a.m. Wednesday about 3 miles south of Point Judith, Rhode Island.
WBZ NewsRadio 1030′s Matt Ledin talked to Gross about the ordeal
Gross had been fishing off Block Island and was working on the back deck of his 23-foot boat when a wave hit it, knocking him overboard.
“I leaned off the side to catch a breeze a little bit, and when I did, I caught a queer wave,” Gross told WBZ NewsRadio 1030 in an exclusive interview. “I just lost my center of gravity over the rail, and I went just like that; no life jacket; happened in about a half second.”
The boat kept going, running aground on Green Hill Beach in South Kingston where witnesses called 911.
“I watched it sail away,” Gross said. “I was thinking I was pretty much a dead man at that point. It was probably at least an eight mile swim in each direction.”
The 51-year-old Gross didn’t give up. The water was cold enough to cause hypothermia, so Gross knew he had to keep moving. He started to swim with the tide toward shore.
The Coast Guard launched a massive search. Nine hours after that search began, rescuers spotted him.
“When we went to go grab him and bring him on board, he just says ‘Please help me, I don’t have any strength, I’m very weak. So, if you can grab me up, and put me up as fast as possible’ And that’s what we did,” explained Petty Officer Chris DiGiovanni of the U.S. Coast Guard.
Gross said they found him just in time.
“I’d have been a dead man if that boat had missed me. Psychologically I was crushed, physically I was already crushed,” Gross said.
He was taken to South County Hospital, where he was being treated for hypothermia.
“It’s a big, big feeling of accomplishment knowing that whenever you pull somebody out of the water and they’re still alive, it’s a great feeling to know that you helped somebody out,” said Petty Officer Justin Wood of the U.S. Coast Guard. “This is what we do. This is what we train for; this is what we look for.”
Asked what Gross was thinking during those hours alone in the dark ocean Gross said, “death and resisting death. Simple as that,” he said. “I won. I won.”
And even after his near death experience, Gross says he’ll be back on the water.
“I’ll probably be in Hudson Canyon next weekend, off of New York City, tuna fishing,” he told WBZ-TV.
But this time, he said he’ll wear a life jacket.