Nation & World News

Man Hailed As A Hero After Epic Swim Saves Stranded Family

By Bill Chappell on July 12th, 2013

“It wasn’t an option. It just had to be done.”

That’s the simple explanation offered by John Franklin Riggs, discussing his extraordinary effort to get help for his family after their boat capsized in the Chesapeake Bay on Tuesday night. Riggs swam for five hours in darkness before finding help near Deal Island, Md.

Their fishing boat had been overwhelmed by a storm that hit the Bay that night. On the boat were Riggs’ father, 70, and sister, along with two children, ages 3 and 9. As Riggs swam, they clung to the boat, which drifted 5 miles in strong tides.

“The boat finally sank just before sundown and we were hanging there on the sides,” Riggs, 46, tells Reuters. “I waited a while and no other boats were out there. Finally, I decided to swim, and that’s what I did. I just swam and swam.”

After Riggs left to get help, the others sang songs to pass the time, Reuters says.

They were reportedly wearing life jackets, but that didn’t protect them from sea nettles as they floated, Riggs’ sister, Contessa, tells news site Delmarva Now.

Riggs says he used lights on shore to guide himself; he also used crab pot buoys in the bay to get a breather. Finally, at around 1 a.m., he arrived at the shore and went to the first house he saw. There, residents Carol Wood and Angela Byrd called the fire department for help.

Riggs’ family spent another two hours or so in the water, as a rescue helicopter searched for them.

“It is a long swim for anybody, in that kind of tide and that kind of wind,” Deal Island Fire Chief Donald Ford tells local TV station WBOC. “I don’t know if too many people survive Tangier Sound in a flood tide like that.”

Speaking with Reuters, Contessa Riggs says she was sure her brother would reach shore.

“When I finally saw him on the boat, I just said, ‘I told you you’re my hero,’ ” she tells the news agency.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit

This entry was posted in News from NPR. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.


More Stories in News from NPR

Mars's massive Mount Sharp may have formed billions of years ago as water carried sand and silt into the center of a large crater.

NASA Rover Finds Evidence That Mars Once Had Lakes

A new study suggests the Red Planet had some blue on it about 3.5 billion years ago.

Chef Paul Prudhomme posed in the kitchen of a convention center in Jerusalem in 1996. He and 12 other chefs prepared a 12-course kosher feast as part of Jerusalem 3,000 celebrations.

Louisiana Chef Paul Prudhomme, Who Popularized Cajun And Creole Food, Dies

The internationally renowned chef sparked a cooking craze and inspired other New Orleans restaurateurs. He was 75.

A child is screened for leaked radiation from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Japan's Fukushima prefecture on March 24, 2011.

Fukushima Study Links Children’s Cancer To Nuclear Accident

The study claims rates of thyroid cancer are high for children who lived near the tsunami-crippled nuclear plant in Japan. But other scientists are skeptical of the findings.

French President Francois Hollande shakes hands with U.S. Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone on Aug. 24 after Stone and two friends were awarded the French Legion of Honor for subduing a gunman on a Paris-bound train.

Hero In French Train Attack, Spencer Stone, Stabbed In California

Stone, one of three Americans who helped stop a terrorist attack on a Paris-bound train in August, is said to be in stable condition following the incident in Sacramento.

This 2011 photo provided by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections shows Charles Warner. Warner was executed Thursday for the 1997 killing of his roommate's 11-month-old daughter.

Oklahoma Used The Wrong Drug To Execute Charles Warner

This is the second botched execution in a row for the state. Clayton Lockett died of a heart attack last year after a phlebotomist misplaced an IV line.

Thank you for your support

WUFT depends on the support of our community — people like you — to help us continue to provide quality programming to North Central Florida.
Become a Sustainer
I want to support FM 89.1/NPR
I want to support Florida's 5/PBS
Donate a Vehicle
Underwriting Payments