A marine biology student from New College of Florida survived a 16-hour ordeal in the middle of the ocean off Honduras after she was swept out to sea during the early morning hours of last Friday.
Heather Barnes, 20, was spending part of the summer in the Central American country.
On Friday morning at about 4:00 a.m., she went out into the water by herself. She couldn’t sleep and she wanted to collect coral samples, notes Business Insider.
“You’re supposed to, you know, go out with a buddy, which I had been doing for the first couple weeks,” she told WPEC.
Barnes said that the small size of the bay and the fact that the water seemed smooth made her feel comfortable enough to snorkel by herself.
“We went on our own all the time during the daytime,” she added.
Friday morning was a different experience altogether, though. She began to have cramps, and the tide eventually swept her far out to sea—under the hot sun and easy prey for jellyfish and stingrays.
Barnes treaded water for about two hours, but eventually began to lose hope that she would be rescued where she was.
“I never saw any planes, any boats. And at the time I’m like: What am I supposed to do?”
The student said she realized she would have to swim all the way back to shore if she wanted to survive.
“Even when I didn’t feel like I was strong enough, like, there was enough of me that still wanted to keep going that, like, I did,” Barnes explained. “It didn’t seem like a choice.”
In the mean time, fellow students and trip organizers realized Barnes was missing. They organized a frantic search, even enlisting Rep. Vern Buchanan and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida to appeal to the Honduran government.
Some 16 hours after she had entered the water, Barnes had managed to return to land, her nightmare essentially over.
“I made it to Lion’s Head on our island and collapsed on the shore,” she told NBC News. “Two locals carried me and gave me water. They kayaked me back to the resort where people poured from every building and hugged and kissed me.”
Barnes has now returned to the United States. She’s healing from severe sunburn and a number of jellyfish stings.
“I felt like I cheated death, or like I cheated the ocean,” she told WPEC.
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