Scuba diver Peter T. Megis Jr. tossed about in 8-foot ocean swells for hours Sunday, watching would-be rescue helicopters vainly searching for him.
At times, the Coast Guard and Navy choppers flew within 100 yards of him, Megis, 27, recalled Monday, but their crews were unable to spot him in the turbulent sea off Channel Islands Harbor.
After nearly 27 hours riding violent currents, the Navy petty officer managed to pull himself up onto the oil platform Gilda, 10 miles off Port Hueneme, where oil workers found him.
“I’m well and kicking, not even in a hospital,” Megis said Monday night, remarkably unfazed. “I had a lot of fun. I’m serious.”
“We sure were surprised to see him,” said a rig worker who asked not to be identified. “He was fine. We have an emergency medical technician on duty, so we set him up with warm clothing, took his blood pressure and temperature and gave him food and drink.”
Megis was exploring a shipwreck in 80 feet of water while diving from a 26-foot pleasure craft. His companion sent out a distress signal when Megis failed to surface after an hour, authorities said.
The Oxnard man said that when he surfaced, he found himself about 50 yards from the boat and unable to be heard over the noise of the sea. Severe riptides swept him farther away.
“They (rescue helicopters) were always within a hundred yards to two miles of me,” Megis said. “All my equipment’s black, so I didn’t show up too well..”
Megis said he was never concerned, even after sunset.
“I could always swim back to the beach,” he said. “It was about six miles in either direction to the mainland or the Channel Island” of Anacapa.
Megis said he just floated with the currents toward Anacapa, but “the rips were too strong for me to swim in then.”
About 11 p.m. Sunday, after 12 hours in the water, Megis said he went to sleep, kept afloat by his wet suit and scuba gear.
“I was never lost at sea,” he said, to explain his ability to sleep. “You can’t be lost if you can see the land everywhere.”
“Every two hours I’d wake up and swim real hard so I would warm up a bit and not freeze to death,” Megis said, estimating the water temperature was in the low 50s.
Megis said he awoke at sunrise within a few miles of oil rigs and made it to safety in six hours.
“I dried off, they gave me a pair of coveralls and a sweat shirt,” he said. “All my vital signs were normal, so they threw away the body bag they were saving for me.”