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Central Coast Fisherman Survives Harrowing 5-Hour Swim After Falling Off Boat

SANTA BARBARA (CNN) -- An evening boat trip quickly turned life-threatening for one Central Coast man.

Scott Thompson, a commercial fisherman, took his boat out on the Santa Barbara Channel around 5 p.m. on Jan. 26. Five hours of swimming later, he wound up on an oil platform with no boat.

Thompson wasn't fishing that day but, rather, clearing his mind after recently losing a close friend.

On his way back, he stood up on the side of the boat but rough waters took hold of the vessel. Thompson lost his balance and fell. That left him stranded in the water and watching his boat drift away. He attempted to swim and catch up to it but was unsuccessful.

"I thought to myself, great, this is how I'm going to die," Thompson, who was just wearing shorts and a T-shirt in the freezing waters, told CNN affiliate KABC. So he began swimming in hopes of finding safety.

Along the way, Thompson was met with a seal, who seemed like a sense of hope at the time. "The seal would go under water and he came up and nudged me," Thompson told KABC. "Did it know, like hey, this human is in trouble; hey, keep going dude?"

Oil Platform Gail Off Santa Barbara Coast
Platform Gail is where Scott Thompson was able to finally find help. (Courtesy TowBoatUS Ventura)

Eventually, around 10 p.m., Thompson found his way to oil Platform Gail.

TowBoatUS captain Carson Shevitz told CNN Saturday this is one of several platforms off the coast and is lit up during the night.

"Fortunately, he made it," Shevitz said, "We've had several other instances where people just don't and we never find them."

"I finally made it to one of the pylons and just clung to it for dear life," Thompson said on TowBoatUS's Instagram.

The platform's crew helped him up and called the U.S. Coast Guard, Shevitz said. He was then taken to shore and transported to the nearest hospital, where he was treated for hypothermia.

Scott Thompson's Fishing Boat
Scott Thompson's boat was later found on a rocky beach after a tracking device helped officials locate it. (Courtesy TowBoatUS Ventura)

The next day, Thompson joined the TowBoatUS Ventura crew to recover his boat. The vessel's tracking device led them to its exact location: stuck on a rocky beach.

"We got to it in time to get it back to him in mostly one piece," Shevitz said. "It'll be ready for him to get back on the water shortly."

Shevitz can't believe how lucky Thompson was to survive, given the magnitude of the situation.

"It's pretty incredible that he was able to hang in there," he said.

In the Instagram comment, Thompson shared his appreciation and thanks to the crew members who helped him. "Hopefully my story teaches someone a lesson and no one ever has to go through what I did," he said.

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