A man was rescued by Los Angeles County Sheriff's personnel and U.S. Coast Guard officials after falling into the water five miles off the coast of Long Beach on Thursday.
The Coast Guard received reports of an unmanned boat moving in circles several miles off the coast of Long Beach around 8:30 a.m. and coordinated a rescue operation with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.
The boater, 28-year-old Tony White, works as a marine mechanical engineer and told KTLA he was headed to conduct monitoring at the Catalina Sea Ranch roughly six miles offshore between Long Beach and San Pedro, where shellfish are harvested.
He said things turned south after he lost his hat and reached out to grab it, letting go of the boat's steering wheel — which, by design, immediately veers to the right when not controlled.
“I was going about 30 mph and the boat made a sharp right turn, and I just kept going straight into the water,” White recalled.
White said he was hoping to make his way to a buoy located about a mile away from the sea ranch. He wasn't wearing his life jacket, so he had been treading water using flip flop shoes on his hands for about 20 minutes after falling off his small boat, officials said.
Officials riding in a sheriff's department helicopter located the boat spinning in the open sea and were able to spot White about 15 minutes later, according to Deputy Jim Moss, who pulled the boater from the water.
“These guys are tough to find in the ocean and it was really a miracle,” he said.
Moss jumped into the water from the helicopter and ensured White's head remained above water until a rescue boat arrived.
“I swam up to the victim, looked him into the eyes and said, ‘Are you OK?’" Moss recounted. "And he said, ‘Thank God you guys could see me.’”
The deputy said such a seamless rescue may not have been possible if the seas weren't as calm as they were Thursday.
White was uninjured and did not require treatment at a hospital.
“I’m fine, no scratches or bruises," he later said. "Just a bruised ego, maybe.”