John Riggs Jr. swims for five hours to save family clinging to capsized boat

John Riggs Jr.

A Maryland man is sharing an epic story of survival in the Chesapeake Bay.

The boat John Riggs Jr. was riding in with his family capsized and drifted for miles off the coast of Deal Island, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

So, as his father, sister, niece and nephew clung to the boat, he went swimming for help, driven not only for his own survival but to save his family.

It took him a grueling five hours, but he made it to shore - in the dark - and found the help he needed.

"It wasn't an option, it just had to be done because they had been out there all night," Riggs says.

"He swam from right here, which is Haines Point and ended up, when he came to shore; right here--what they call Hall Point," says Deal Island Fire Chief Donald Ford. "And probably some of the worst tides in the Chesapeake."

Maybe it was faith - or just luck. Once he came ashore, Riggs knocked on Carol Wood's door.

"He said he sent up a little prayer and he said all of a sudden my feet hit the sandy bottom," Carol Wood says,

"I come out. I looked around the corner and there was a man standing on my deck," Wood says. "And he kept saying ‘I just need to save my family. I just need to save my family.’"

"I said you have come to the right house because I know exactly who to call."

"Just not knowing what's going on with them while I was gone,” Riggs says. “It was getting nasty and blowing harder all the time. Didn’t know if we would be able to find them, when we got back out there."

"It's a long swim for anybody in that kind of tide and that kind of wind, I mean, I don't know of too many people who survives Tangier Sound in a flood tide like that," Ford says. "It's an amazing story. The man's a hero."

Rescue crews were able to get to the family in time. The family was wearing life jackets, which probably helped them survive.