James McCarthy is an Irish fisherman who owes his life to to his brother and crewmate. He is still breathing this very day because of them. When he fell overboard from his brother’s trawler into the icy waters of the Gulf of Alaska, one of the world’s coldest and most treacherous oceans, he mentioned that he “had breathed his last” and was “prepared to die”.



In all, the Kodiak-based fisherman, who is from Ringaskiddy in Co Cork, spent a total of 25 minutes, without any form of flotation device or survival suit, in the near-freezing water. According to experts, the survival time in those conditions would normally be only 15 minutes. Even James himself felt his life was slowly slipping away. However,  his brother Peter, 44, as well as his fellow crewman Makodo Odlin, 26, did everything in their power to save him. “Mak and my brother will be my heroes for the rest of my life. They did the best job they could. They couldn’t have done anything better. Why I’m back? I don’t know. I suppose my brother just wouldn’t let me go,” stated James.

The incident first came about when they were fishing on Peter’s boat, the 17m Stella, in the Shelikof Strait. It was approximately 5pm and they were hauling 50-ton of pollock when one of James’s legs got caught in the net. After which, he was pulled up towards the net reel and was flung head first into the frigid ocean. “There was no shock, no instantaneous loss of breath. I suppose the adrenalin just kicked in. Panic didn’t set in. I just knew what I needed to do,” said James, who is a non-swimmer.

James was actually about to leave the port when he heard the mayday call over the radio. He decided to head on back without even realising that it was his own brother who was in trouble. In the meantime, Mak had thrown a life-ring to James while Peter tried to turn the boat as the 50-ton bag of fish began to sink. James held on to the life-ring, took slow deep breaths and stopped his movements in order to conserve energy. Eventually, Peter and Mak managed to cut the net and turn the boat towards James. When they approached closer, Mak tied a rope around his waist, dived in and swam 6m to grab James. They had to do CPR of him for five minutes before James finally came around. For the full story, check it out here.

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