Boater who fell into the Santa Barbara Channel helped by nudging seal, swims to oil rig safely

SANTA BARBARA CHANNEL, Calif. (KABC) -- Lost at sea, with no land in sight, a Southern California boater fell into the ocean and thought he was spending his final moments on earth.

"I thought to myself, great, this is how I'm going to die," boater Scott Thompson said. "Today is the day I'm going to die."

Thompson accidentally fell out of his boat and into the water last month. He wore only shorts and a T-shirt in the middle of the frigid Santa Barbara Channel at night, miles away from land.

Panic set in as he watched his boat motor on without him.

"That's when I realized, like, okay, we got problems," Thompson said. "And I just started swimming as hard as I could, towards the boat, and it really didn't take too long to realize like, it's getting farther, I'm not getting closer."

Despite being an expert diver and experienced swimmer, Thompson felt the icy chill of the ocean and certain death creeping in.

"The panic set in it was like, wow, this is a pretty heavy situation," he said.

Thomspon needed a miracle to survive against overwhelming odds. With no land in sight, he leaned on the love for his family to inspire the fight to live.

"Just keep swimming, you gotta get home to your family." Thompson kept telling himself. "I was devastating myself, through my mind, just picturing my girls and my son growing up without me, and my wife, you know, not having a husband to support her...I wasn't thinking about sharks or anything like that, until I hear this splash?"



To Thompson, that splash felt like an angel summoned to help him.

"It was a medium-sized harbor seal," Thompson said. "The seal would go underwater and he came up and nudged me. Like a dog comes up and nudges your leg."

Thompson saw that as a divine sign that against all odds he could make it.

"Did it know, like hey, this human is in trouble, hey keep going dude?" he said.

After his interaction with the seal, Thompson felt determined to swim to the nearest oil platform, which was far but closer than land.

"You gotta make it to the platform because you have no choice," Thompson said.

Freezing and exhausted, he kept swimming some five hours -- finally reaching the platform.

"It started getting brighter and I'm just like, I'm crying. And I'm like, shouting at the sky." he said.

Crews aboard the oil platform rendered aid. The coast guard got him to a hospital where Thompson got treated for hypothermia, and more.

A tow boat crew that recovered the floating vessel, and said they can't believe Thompson survived.

"Even putting on a wet suit, being prepared, getting in that water, and swimming to the platform was horrendous," Channel Watch Marine Paul Amaral said. "I can't imagine being in the water with shorts and a T-shirt at night. There was no moon, I mean it was pitch black."
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