An angler who was the lone survivor of a boat accident that killed four of his friends said Monday he lived by swimming for 25 minutes in cold water to a rocky shore along the coast of Northern California.
Phillip Sanchez, 66, said his determination kept him alive.
“The water pushed me underneath and I thought I was drowning a couple times,” he said of swimming in the 59-degree water. “When I could stand up and lean against the rocks, I figured I would be all right.”
Three men and a woman died Saturday during the recreational crabbing expedition when a wave slammed into their 32-foot boat and capsized it near Bodega Bay, about 70 miles north of San Francisco.
“It happened in seconds and it was so powerful,” Sanchez said. “We were far enough off shore we never saw anything coming.”
Sanchez, who lives in Bodega Bay, severely cut his arm and sustained back bruises. He was taken by helicopter to a hospital, treated and released.
Sanchez had polio as an infant and does not have full use of his right leg. In addition, he previously injured his elbow during a fall from a truck. He said the issues did not impair the ability to swim that he learned growing up in California's Gold Country.
“I was actually on the swim team in high school and I did very well,” he said.
Sanchez said he feels lucky to be alive but is coping with survivor's guilt.
“I'm dealing with it just the best I can right now,” he said Monday.
The people killed were Jessie Daniel Langley, 79, and Sam Garcia, 86, both of Bodega Bay; and David Costa, 60, of Ripon. The fourth victim has not been identified.
Garcia and Costa were friends for 40 years.
“Dave Costa was a prince of a man, nicest guy you ever want to meet,” Sanchez said. “He had to have gotten hit by something when he came out of the boat. I never saw.”
Authorities said no one was wearing a life jacket.
The Coast Guard is investigating.