Although it happened back in July, I find myself still telling the story of Joseph Gross to anyone who might not have heard about his courageous battle for 11 hours. Maybe it's because I'm around water a lot, or like so many of us, I've also taken plenty of solo trips on a boat before.
Bad news always seems to travel faster than a feel-good story and I'm not sure why that is. When we read about an accident that robbed someone of their life, it dominates the headlines. But for how miraculous and inspiring this story is, I'm a little surprised it's not talked about more, especially among us boaters. But this is where I come in to make sure this bit of good news continues to spread.
Gross had been fishing about three miles south of Point Judith in Rhode Island when a big wave knocked him overboard.
"I leaned off the side to catch a breeze a little bit, and when I did, I caught a queer wave," Gross told WBZ NewsRadio 1030. "I just lost my center of gravity over the rail, and I went just like that; no life jacket; happened in about a half second."
The Rhode Island man managed to tread water without a life vest for almost 11 hours after falling off his boat. The boat kept going, running aground on Green Hill Beach in South Kingston where witnesses called 911.
"I watched it sail away," Gross said. "I was thinking I was pretty much a dead man at that point. It was probably at least an eight-mile swim in each direction."
The 51-year-old Gross didn't give up. The water was cold enough to cause hypothermia, so Gross knew he had to keep moving. He started to swim with the tide toward shore.
The Coast Guard launched a massive search. Nine hours after that search began, rescuers spotted him.
I can only imagine how tired he must have been. When Petty Officer Chris DiGiovanni of the U.S. Coast Guard got to him, Gross said he didn't have any strength left and needed to be pulled in. And he's guessing he couldn't have made it much longer.
"I'd have been a dead man if that boat had missed me. Psychologically I was crushed, physically I was already crushed," Gross said.
The man's will to live is inspiring to say the least. I can't seem to get this out of my mind as I try to envision what it must have been like waiting and hoping to be rescued, not knowing when your last breath of air might be.
Gross was taken to the hospital and treated for hypothermia. When asked what he was thinking during those hours alone in the dark ocean Gross said, "Death and resisting death. Simple as that," he said. "I won. I won."
And even after his near-death experience, Gross says he'll be back on the water.
"I'll probably be in Hudson Canyon next weekend, off of New York City, tuna fishing," he told WBZ-TV. But this time, he said he'll wear a life jacket.
That's a good reminder to all of us. A life jacket only works when you're wearing it, and simply just having it onboard wasn't enough for the seasoned skipper who cheated death, but gave us all a great story to talk about.
Brady L. Kay