It was July 24, 2013. It started off like any other day for longtime pals and fellow fishermen John Aldridge and Anthony Sosinski. They were busy catching crabs and lobsters off the coast of Montauk, Long Island.
When it got late, Sosinski went to sleep but the ship was on autopilot. Aldridge was supposed to wake Sosinski at 11:30 p.m. so they could start preparing for the catch, but he decided to let his friend sleep. Around 2 in the morning, Aldridge knew it was time to fill up the tanks which would house the next day’s catch. Yet there was something blocking his path.
A 125-pound cooler was sitting atop the hatch. So, Aldridge attempted to move it out of the way. He used a long metal hook to heave at the handle attached to the cooler but it snapped off.
He stumbled backwards off the open back of the boat into the water.
They were 40 miles away from the coast and Aldridge had no lifejacket. Sosinski was asleep below deck and couldn’t hear his friend’s cries. He was forced to watch as their boat, The Anna Mary, sailed away.
“I could see the boat but then I came down in the wave and I couldn’t see the boat,” Aldridge told CBS Sunday Morning. “Then I came up on the crest and [it’s like] ‘Then ya see it, then it’s gone! …
“[I was thinking] ‘You’re done! Today’s the day I’m gonna die!'”
Luckily, Aldridge discovered a way to keep afloat: the pair of boots on his feet.
“I was on my back… trying to stay afloat and my legs made their way to the surface and it just clicked. ‘Oh yeah. That’s a sign right there.'”
Thinking on his feet, Aldridge emptied his boots out to form an air pocket and put them under his arms. With his floating problem solved, for the time being, it seemed like things were going a bit better for Aldridge. However, his hopes were dashed when he noticed something off in the distance.
“Fifteen feet away and I see two shark fins come up and I’m like, ‘Hang on, this is unreal!'”
All that he could do, in that moment, was convince himself to breathe easy and pretend that the sharks weren’t there. Surprisingly, this ended up working out for him. The sharks swam away without paying him any mind.
Four hours in, Aldridge thought nobody in the world knew he was missing. Then, Sosinski woke up and started looking around the boat.
“I was in disbelief, straight up disbelief,” said Sosinski, “[I thought] ‘He can’t not be here!'”
He contacted The Coast Guard station in New Haven, Connecticut, right away and they began their search for Aldridge. Given the information that they had at the time, they used a computer program to track all of the possible locations where Aldridge could be. But they had no idea of exactly when Aldridge had fallen overboard—was it before 11:30 when he was supposed to wake Sosinski, or was it much later?
The area calculated was the size of Rhode Island.
Coastguard Commander Jonathan Theel believed that they would not be able to find him in time. Yet Sosinski remained hopeful.
“I never thought he was dead. [I thought] ‘Right now he’s alive and we’re looking for him,'” Sosinski said.
Then, Sosinski made a major breakthrough: he had discovered the broken cooler handle sitting atop the Anna Mary. He called in to report this, saying it didn’t make any sense. He realized that Aldridge was trying to refill the tanks but thought it was a bit odd, considering the part of the water they were in when he woke up.
The tank was usually filled when the water below them reached 40 fathoms (or 240 feet) deep. This enabled them to more accurately figure out the time and place where Aldridge must have fallen overboard, and narrow down the rescue team’s search area significantly. It ultimately led to Aldridge’s rescue.
Meanwhile, Aldridge was setting goals for himself. He kept telling himself, “I’ve just gotta live until morning.”
Sure enough, when the sun came up, Aldridge was still hanging on. Better yet, he had noticed a buoy in the distance. So he swam near it and hung on for dear life. A few helicopters flew overhead but they were too far away and did not notice Aldridge splashing and screaming. Yet, 40 minutes later, another chopper flew by, this one much closer to the water.
“It turns over the top of me and then I know. ‘Oh my God! I’m gonna be saved!'” Aldridge recalled.
Coast Guard swimmer Bob Hovey was lowered into the waters below and assisted Aldridge into the basket.
The rescuers were very impressed that he had managed to survive for so long.
“The pilot pulled his visor back, looked back to me and said, ‘Man, you’ve got some will to live,'” Aldridge explained. He also remembered hearing his pilot say, “We don’t find live people, we find bodies.”
The New Haven Coast Guard has gone on to use Aldridge’s story as a teaching tool. Meanwhile, Aldridge and Sosinski look back on the situation in awe.
The Anna Mary now hosts a collection of “treasures” from Aldridge’s near-death experience, including the handle that snapped off the cooler and the boots that saved his life.
When asked how he made it through the harrowing experience, Aldridge said, “Positive thinking saved my life. If I didn’t have positive thinking and those boots, I wouldn’t have made it.”
Aldridge’s overboard adventure has been turned into a book called A Speck in The Sea. He and Sosinski have also struck up a movie deal, although it’s still early in development. To see Aldridge’s harrowing tale for yourself, you can watch it right here: