Boater who fell in ocean waters off Santa Barbara Channel helped nudge harbor seal, inspired to swim to safety

SANTA BARBARA CHANNEL, Calif. — Lost at sea with no land in sight, a Southern California boater fell into the ocean and thought he was spending his last moments on land.

“I thought, ‘Great, this is how I’m going to die,'” boater Scott Thompson said. “‘Today is the day I will die.'”

Thompson accidentally fell off his boat and fell into the water last month. He was wearing nothing but shorts and a T-shirt in the middle of the freezing Santa Barbara Channel at night, miles from land.

Panic set in as he stared at his motorboat without him.

“That’s when I realized, like, OK, we’re in trouble,” Thompson said. “And I just started swimming as hard as I could, towards the boat, and it didn’t take too long to realize that it’s getting away, I’m not getting closer.”

Despite being an expert diver and an experienced swimmer, Thompson felt the freezing cold of the ocean and certain death creep in.

“The panic that set in there was like, ‘Wow, that’s a pretty heavy situation,'” he said.

Thomspon needed a miracle to survive against all odds. With no land in sight, he relied on love for his family to inspire the fight to live.

“Just keep swimming, you have to go home with your family.” Thompson kept telling himself. “I was devastating myself, in my head, just imagining my daughters and my son growing up without me, and my wife, you know, without a husband to support her… I wasn’t thinking about sharks or anything like that. that, until I heard that splash?”

To Thompson, that splash felt like an angel called to help him.

“It was a medium-sized harbor seal,” Thompson said. “The seal was going underwater and it came to nudge me, like a dog coming to nudge you.”

Thompson saw this as a divine sign that he could pull it off against all odds.

“Did he know, like hey, this human is in trouble, hey keep it up man?” he said.

After his interaction with the seal, Thompson felt determined to swim to the nearest oil rig, which was far away but closer than land.

“‘You have to get to the platform because you have no choice,'” Thompson thought to himself.

Frozen and exhausted, he continued to swim for about five hours – eventually reaching the platform.

“It started to get brighter and I’m crying. And I’m like screaming at the sky.” he said.

Crews aboard the oil rig assisted. The Coast Guard took him to a hospital where Thompson was treated for hypothermia and more.

A tug crew who recovered the floating vessel say they cannot believe Thompson survived.

“Even putting on a wetsuit, getting ready, getting into that water and swimming to the platform was horrible,” Channel Watch Marine Paul Amaral said. “I can’t imagine being in the water with shorts and a T-shirt at night. There was no moon, I mean it was dark.”

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