Some hours after his plunge into the North Arabian Sea, Zach Mayo’s crude life preserver started to leak.
So he unstrapped his trusted Timex watch, still ticking, wadded up the leaking material and tied it off with the watch band.
The 20-year-old Marine lance corporal, who fell off of an aircraft carrier last week, last checked the watch about 30 hours into his misadventure, then drifted off to sleep and lost both the watch and the life preserver.
“When I’d start to go under, I would take in water and it would wake me up,” said Mayo, now visiting his family in Osburn. “(Nearly) drowning is the worst feeling.”
Mayo was later told that when Pakistani fishermen found him in the Gulf of Oman, he was treading water in his sleep.
Those fishermen took off their turbans, leaned out of their 45-foot fishing boat, wrapped the headdresses around Mayo’s wrists and pulled him out of the water. “I was glad to have something to float on,” he said.
Mayo arrived in his hometown of Osburn Wednesday night from Washington, D.C., and was up by 3 a.m. Thursday to recount his tale for Good Morning America. Next week he’ll head to Burbank, Calif., for the Tonight Show.
“It’s a little much,” he said. “I didn’t really expect to come home to this.”
In between time in the media spotlight, he’ll visit schools to help with recruiting, one of the stipulations of his Marine Corps leave. He’ll also attend a parade in his honor in Osburn on Dec. 19.
Mayo’s rise to fame began when he walked out on a 3-by-6-foot platform at the back of the ship about 2 a.m. on Nov. 24, he said. Mayo didn’t latch the door behind him. So when the aircraft carrier USS America turned, the door swung open and hit him in the back.
There are no safety nets except around the flight deck, Mayo said. So he fell 30 feet, landing on his side in the ship’s huge wake.
“There was no chance of being propeller bait,” Mayo said. “I could have been sucked in by the wake (but) luckily I came back up.”
He thought one of the lookouts had seen him and expected to be rescued within minutes. About 10 minutes later, realizing he was in for a long swim, he pulled off his boots and his coveralls.
Mayo tied off the legs and arms and inflated the clothes into a makeshift life preserver. Every two to three minutes - an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 times during his misadventure - he had to refill his coverall-preserver.
The water was 70 to 80 degrees, but Mayo still shivered when he was too exhausted to move his arms to keep warm. Small sharks nibbled at his body, but there was never the attack he expected.
After he was rescued, it took 2-1/2 days for the fishermen to get back to port in Pakistan and then safety.
As to the watch that saved the day? “The watch probably still works,” he said.
“At the bottom of the ocean.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo