A cruise ship passenger who survived 20 hours in the ocean after falling off a cruise ship says he has no idea how he went overboard – but denies being drunk before the accident, despite drinking to celebrate winning an air guitar competition.
James Michael Grimes, 28, says he survived by treading water and eating bamboo after plunging into the sea during a Thanksgiving cruise with 18 family members on November 23.
Grimes, who had only been on board for a day before the incident, had been in a bar on the ship with his sister celebrating his air guitar contest win when he excused himself to use the bathroom and didn’t return. His sister reported him missing 12 hours later.
In an interview with Good Morning America, he said he didn’t have ‘tons’ of drinks but ‘couldn’t really say’ how much he consumed.
Sceptics now question his version of events, particularly how he could not know how he went overboard and how much alcohol he’d consumed before the incident.
James Michael Grimes, 28, says he survived by eating bamboo and can see the funny side of the life-threatening encounter after plunging into the freezing sea
Grimes, who is described as an outdoorsman, said he thinks the fall overboard knocked him unconscious before he came to his senses in the water with no sign of the ship nearby. He was rescued by the Coast Guard on November 24.
Speaking to GMA he said: ‘The next thing I know I regained consciousness. I was in the water with no boat in sight.
‘I felt like I was given a chance right then… you’re alive for a reason… that fall could’ve killed me, but I felt like from that moment on, I was trying to stay positive.
‘And, you know when you’re here, you’re still alive for a reason. So, all you got to do now is swim and survive. I was hoping… they will start looking for me… they will find me eventually.
‘My worst fear is drowning and that was something I did not want to have to face.
‘I wanted to see my family and I was dead set on making it out of there, you know. I was never accepting that this is it. This is going to be the end of my life.’
He had been spending Thanksgiving on the five-day cruise with 18 members of his family, including his parents and sister – as the ship traveled towards Cozumel, Mexico.
The 28-year-old has been quizzed as to what happened but says he has no recollection of the incident, a claim that’s been met with raised eyebrows.
One sceptic said: ‘If “I didn’t have too much to drink, I promise” was a person’ alongside a picture of Grimes.
Another said ‘this guy should definitely avoid rooftop bars’ while a third added that he was ‘definitely drunk’ to not remember what happened.
Grimes claims that while he wasn’t ‘inebriated’, he and his sister had enjoyed some drinks after he won an air guitar competition.
Many viewers of his interview have questioned how Grimes can claim he doesn’t know what happened – and denies drinking before falling overboard despite several claims he was inebriated
He said he found a fortune in his pocket after the terrifying incident – telling him to ‘enjoy the waves’
He had been spending Thanksgiving on the five-day cruise with 18 members of his family, with the ship traveling towards Cozumel, Mexico, as he fell overboard
When asked how much he had been drinking, he denied having ‘tons’ of drinks and said he ‘couldn’t really say’ how many he had consumed.
The outdoorsman also claims that he was forced to fend off a creature with a fin, which he initially thought was a shark, while floating in the waters after falling off the ship.
He added: ‘I thought it was a shark. I mean, I was swimming in one direction and looked around I seen it out the corner of my eye and it came up on me really quick and went under and I could see it and it wasn’t a shark.
‘But it had more like a flat mouth and came up and bumped one of my legs and I kicked it with the other leg. It scared me not knowing what it was or, at the time, how big it was. All I could see was a fin.’
‘A stick come floating by. Looked like bamboo so I started eating on it and it actually — I won’t say it tasted good but it gave some type of flavor in my mouth other than salt water.
‘When it started getting back towards nighttime again the water started getting colder, at that time I thought, you know, how much longer am I going to have to be out here?
‘You know, the fall didn’t kill me, you know, sea creatures didn’t eat me, I felt like I was meant to get out of there.’
The boat was on its way from New Orleans to Cozumel when the man went overboard
Grimes was found in the Gulf of Mexico on Thanksgiving Day after going missing from the Carnival Valor (pictured in March)
US Coast Guard Aviation Survival Technician Richard Hoefle explained that Grimes was ‘at his limit’ when his four-man crew arrived to help save his life.
He told 4WWL: ‘Some people break down and cry, some people are in shock, and they don’t know what’s going on, some people are ecstatic and they act a little crazy because they are so happy to be out of the situation that they are in.
‘Mr. Grimes had nothing left. He had no energy. He had nothing left to give. My best guess is that he had between a minute and 30 seconds left before we lost him completely.’
Dramatic footage shows Grimes struggling to fight the swells of the water, with the Coast Guard releasing footage of his rescue.
US Coast Guard Aviation Survival Technician Richard Hoefle (pictured) explained that Grimes was ‘at his limit’ when his four-man crew arrived to help save his life
Grimes, who was rushed to a hospital in New Orleans after the incident, claims that he lost 20 pounds from treading water
Wednesday 11pm: The man is last seen at the bar with his sister
Thursday midday: Sister reports him missing to crew staff
Noon-2:30pm: Crew searches for the man and cannot find him
2:30pm: US Coast Guard received a call and Carnival Valor begins backtracking toward New Orleans
Unspecific time: Ship is released from search by the Coast Guard
8:25pm: He is spotted by another vessel and rescued by the Coast Guard via helicopter
Total time overboard: 21.5 hours
Grimes added: ‘They circled the boat two or three times looking for me.
‘I had taken off my socks and everything waving them around my head trying to do something where they would see me and when that light finally hit me, I heard it, we got him and seen a guy coming down from the helicopter and it was coming towards me and right there I thought, man, I see the light.
‘Well, the first thing I actually told him, I don’t have any clothes on because I didn’t. I stripped out of everything.
‘He said that’s fine. I was like, okay, he told me to hold on to this life vest and I was just thinking, thank you, you are like a guardian angel.
‘I swam to him as fast as I could. As I got to him I shoved the rescue sling under his arms and he collapsed into it. He had nothing left.
‘It opened my eyes. I take things for granted, I reckon. A lot of people do. I definitely would be open to go on another cruise because I really didn’t get to go on this one.’
Grimes, who was rushed to a hospital in New Orleans after the incident, claims that he lost 20 pounds from treading water.
The dramatic moment Grimes was hoisted out of the Gulf of Mexico after 15 hours was released by the US Coast Guard. It shows him desperately trying to keep his head above the swelling waves.
He vanishes for seconds at a time but manages to claw himself back above the swirling water off the coast of Louisiana.
‘That was a one in a million and we got it done. We worked as a team and we were able to help somebody,’ Hoefle added. He is pictured alongside his team ,from left Lt. Katy Caraway, AMT2 Dalton Goetsch, , and Lt. Travis Rhea far right. The four Coast Guardsmen are part of an Air Station New Orleans MH-60 Jayhawk aircrew. Hoefle and Rhea were involved in this rescue
The almost pitch-black clip shows Coast Guard officers scrambling to get to him as he is chucked around by the stormy sea. They carefully lower a basket from the helicopter, and he fails to cling on to it several times before finally finding his grip
He is then winched up towards the helicopter and bundled into the chopper before being medically evaluated
Rescuers finally managed to winch him out of the water using a basket suspended from a helicopter in the darkness at 8.25pm.
The Coast Guard said he was suffering from hypothermia and dehydration.
The miraculous rescue came after a tanker spotted the man flailing in the waters earlier that evening.
In a statement, the Coast Guard added: ‘We greatly appreciate the efforts of all, most especially the U.S. Coast Guard and the mariner who spotted the guest in the water.
‘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.
‘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.’
Carnival Valor said in a statement: ‘Carnival Valor retraced its route to support the search and rescue, but the ship has now been released by the U.S. Coast Guard, and will continue on its way to Cozumel.
‘Carnival’s Care Team is providing support to the family members of the missing guest who were sailing with him and remain on board’.