Cruise Passenger Who Survived 20 Hours Overboard Has No Idea How He Fell

Kathleen Flynn/Reuters
Kathleen Flynn/Reuters

The 28-year-old Carnival cruise ship passenger who somehow stayed alive for 20 hours after falling overboard on Thanksgiving eve says the last thing he remembers onboard was winning an air guitar contest in one of the ship lounges.

James Michael Grimes told ABC News in an interview that aired Friday morning that he likely passed out when he fell from the Carnival Valor into the water, but was so determined to survive he willed himself to stay afloat.

“The next thing I know... I regained consciousness. I was in the water with no boat in sight,” he said. “I wanted to see my family and I was dead set on making it out of there. I was never accepting that this is it, this is going to be the end of my life. I’m 28 years old. I’m too young. This is not going to be it.”

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That unbelievable determination led him to tread shark-invested water for 20 hours, where he says he battled jellyfish and rip tides. “I always thought there’s a greater purpose for my life,” he told ABC. “Now, I know for sure I’m meant to do something on this Earth. And, you know, I don’t know. It was just the Lord was out there helping me, giving me strength and helping me stay afloat.”

Faith, of course, and the help of the cargo ship that alerted the U.S. Coast Guard team searching for him after his sister reported him missing from the cruise ship, which was bound for Cozumel, Mexico. Grimes was rescued by the Jayhawk crew after a mariner spotted him in the water. “We are beyond grateful that this case ended with a positive outcome,” Coast Guard search and rescue mission coordinator Lt. Seth Gross told ABC in a statement. “We greatly appreciate the efforts of all, most especially the U.S. Coast Guard and the mariner who spotted the guest in the water.”

The statement went on to imply that perhaps Grimes breached the safety barrier. “Cruise ships have safety barriers in all public areas that are regulated by U.S. Coast Guard standards that prevent a guest from falling off,” the statement says. “Guests should never ever climb up on the rails. The only way to go overboard is to purposefully climb up and over the safety barriers.”

Grimes, who was on the five-day cruise to Cozumel with 18 members of his family, did admit to drinking but said he has no recollection at all of how he managed to fall off the ship. When asked if he would ever go on a cruise again, he said he would “because I didn’t really get to go on this one,” but said would stay away from the rails.

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