3 Survive 9-Hour Swim After Boat Sinks Off Baja

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Eric Jones and two friends were in poor humor Sunday night as they prepared to end a weekend fishing trip to Mexico. Their quarry, the mako shark, had eluded them all day.

But nine hours later--after their boat capsized, forcing them to swim 8 to 10 miles through dark, chilly water filled with the very creatures that had been their prey--the men were counting their blessings.

Jones, 47, suffered hypothermia and shock during the ordeal, forcing his companions, Dave James, 27, of Oceanside, and Paul Hay, 25, of Carlsbad, to pull him to shore using shoestrings jerry-rigged as a tow-ropes.

"There was some real heroism there," Jones, a store manager for a medical supply company, said Monday night as he relaxed in his Fallbrook home. "The Lord was definitely looking down on us."

Jones said the men were preparing to leave their fishing spot off Ensenada at dusk Sunday when their ordeal began. They were standing near the stern of the Scorpion, Jones' 21-foot power boat. The weight of the trio, combined with a malfunctioning bilge pump, forced the boat's stern to ride low in the water. When a large wave hit the craft unexpectedly it became swamped.

"I thought, 'My God, we're sinking,' " Jones said. "I just could not believe it. It was a good, strong boat."

Despite frantic efforts, Jones was unable to open the compartment in which the life jackets were stored. As the boat capsized, it rolled upside down.

"It happened within 20 to 30 seconds," said Jones, a longtime recreational fisherman.

James and Hay took turns diving underneath a tangle of rope, fishing lines, and hooks in an attempt to reach the life-jacket compartment, Hay said.

They succeeded, but just barely.

"Right after we got the life jackets, the boat went under," said Hay, a plasterer. "All we could see were some faint lights on the shore. It was scary."

The men also managed to salvage and activate several signal flares, but they went unnoticed by people on shore, where a fireworks show was being staged, Jones said.

As they swam toward the shore, the cold water began to take its toll on Jones.

After he began shivering violently and could no longer swim, his friends took off their shoelaces and tied themselves to his ankles, towing Jones toward shore feet first, Hay said.

"We stayed like that until we heard the surf," Jones said.

As they approached the rocky shore, the men were separated by the pounding breakers. Hay said he yelled Jones' name into the darkness.

"We had towed him all that way," Hay said. "It would have been a shame to lose him that close to shore."

But the group finally made it up to the rocks, and Hay and James ran for help at the vacation home of Tony Cover, an Upland, Calif., resident, about 3:30 a.m. Monday.

The Cover family warmed Jones with hot showers and hot water bottles until he could be taken to an Ensenada hospital.

"They were the best people," Hay said of the Cover family. "They were super."

All three men returned to San Diego County on Monday, and at least two of them had plans to go fishing again.

"Certainly," Hay said. "I like to fish--this was just one of those freak things."

"I love the ocean," Jones said. "I love fishing."

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