John Riggs can’t explain how he did it, but did say his only thoughts were of saving his family.
John Riggs, a 46-year-old Maryland man, is being hailed a hero for swimming 5 hours late Tuesday night in the middle of a storm in the Tangier Sound to save his family. He told WBOC that he swam over 3 miles against strong waves because the lives of his father, sister and niece and nephew “depended on it.” He said, “It wasn’t an option, it just had to be done because they had been out there all night.”
The family fishing trip was organized by Riggs’ father, 70-year-old John Riggs Sr., who is a retired commercial waterman. Included on the boat were Contessa Riggs, the waterman’s daughter, her 3-year-old son Conrad Drake, and Riggs Sr.’s 9-year-old granddaughter Emily Horn, who was visiting from San Francisco.
Deal Island Fire Chief Donald Ford said:
It’s an amazing story. The man’s a hero. He swam from Haines Point and ended up, when he came to shore, at Hall Point. [He] fought some of the worse tides in the Chesapeake Bay.
It is a long swim for anybody in that kind of tide and that kind of wind. I don’t know of too many people who survive Tangier Sound in a flood tide like that.
Riggs told reporters that the hardest part was, “Just not knowing what’s going on with them while I was gone. It was getting nasty and blowing harder. And not knowing if we [rescue crews and Riggs] would be able to find them when we got back out there.” But he knew he was thier only chance, so he did what instinct told him to do, and didn’t look back. After swimming for 5 hours Riggs reached the shoreline and then climbed some rocks to “get help at the first house he saw.”
Carol Wood and her roommate woke up to their dog barking around 1 AM Wednesday morning. She said, “I looked around the corner and there was a man standing on my deck.” He was soaking wet and barefoot, and Wood said she knew something was wrong because, “he kept saying ‘I just need to save my family. I just need to save my family.’ ” Riggs then told Wood that his family was “adrift at sea and holding on for their dear lives.” She said, “I said you have come to the right house because I know exactly who to call.”
Apart from a few jellyfish stings, the entire family was found and rescued unharmed. 9-year-old Emily says her uncle is “a real hero”—though next time, she’s only going fishing “if the water is really shallow.”