By Ken MacLeod

FALMOUTH (CBS) – The lone survivor of a capsized boat off Martha’s Vineyard recounted the devastating moment he knew his friend, a fellow fisherman was dead.

Ernesto Garcia is recovering from hypothermia at Falmouth Hospital. WBZ spoke with him on the phone.

“It wasn’t captain’s error or nothing it’s just Mother Nature,” Garcia said.

Ernesto Garcia and Gerry Bretal (Courtesy photo)

He says boat captain and best friend Gerry Bretal did everything he could to keep the “Leonardo” from sinking when it was hit by a combination of rogue waves 24 miles southwest of the Vineyard.

“We had no time to get survival gear on, not even a life vest, it just happened in a split of a second,” Garcia said. “There was no chance for nothing except holding your breath.”

He says he grabbed a life-ring after the boat capsized and then saw crewmate Mark Cormier bobbing in the water — dazed. They clung together for more than an hour, but the cold ocean was too much.

The Leonardo, based out of New Bedford. (Courtesy Photo)

“He basically died in my arms, I tried helping the kid and I think that’s what hurts me the most that I couldn’t help him,” Garcia said.

Realizing he was the only survivor, Ernesto spotted a life raft and swam to it, not really knowing if help was even on the way — until a Coast Guard helicopter hoisted him aboard roughly two hours after the “Leonardo” sank.

Ernesto Garcia is hoisted into a Coast Guard helicopter (Image credit Coast Guard)

“I’ve never seen water rush in on a boat that fast in my life,” Garcia said. “It was a lot of water, a lot of force. There was nothing you could do but hold on.”

But as the nightmare replays in Ernesto’s mind, it is the faces of his crewmates that haunt him the most.

“I wish I could have did something for all them, I’m sorry,” Garcia said.

When he’s discharged from the hospital Wednesday, Ernesto’s family is begging him not to fish for a living anymore and he says he’s not yet decided if he’ll return to it.

Ken MacLeod

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