Capsized boat survivor shares story

Riley Lopo thankful for rescuers

SAN DIEGO - The Pine Valley teenager who nearly drowned after his family's fishing boat capsized off the coast of Del Mar told his story of survival to 10News.

Riley Lopo, an 18-year-old senior at Mountain Empire High School, was shark fishing with his father and older brother on May 4 off Del Mar when the water became choppy. They decided to return to shore, but the engine wouldn't start. That was when waves started coming over the stern of the boat.

"The third wave came over and just flipped us over," said Lopo, who told 10News he wasn't afraid, but angry that his new fishing gear was gone and his cellphone was wet.

He realized it was more serious when his father told them to swim to shore.

"Right then, it was like, I wonder if we're going to make it," said Lopo. "My dad was telling us, 'Stay calm,' and my dad was looking like he knew something was going to happen the whole time."

They spent three hours in the water.

"I didn't really know how far away shore was at the time, so I thought we were making good time, but when my dad was next to me swimming, I was starting to cramp and was short of breath, and was getting really cold because the water was like 63 degrees," Lopo said.

Shortly after that, he blacked out.

By the time the crew of the New Seaforth spotted the men in the water, Riley was unconscious and had turned blue.

Remarkably, there were four nurses and an EMT aboard the 80-foot fishing vessel. They performed CPR for 45 minutes as the boat rushed back to shore and a waiting ambulance.

All three men were hospitalized, but Riley's condition was grave. His mother said doctors believed if he survived he would have brain damage.

"I didn't want to believe that he was gone," recalled Lori Lopo. "In my heart, I didn't think he was, but my 4-month-old passed away and we had to pull the plug on him with a breathing tube, and that's all I thought was, 'dear God, don't make me do it again.'"

Two days later, Riley regained consciousness, and four days after the boating accident, he went home from the hospital, almost like new.

His mother called the people who saved her husband and sons "angels."

Riley's eyes filled with tears when asked what he thought of them.

"I just want to say thank you. Without them, I wouldn't be alive; I'd be at the bottom of the ocean or something," he said.

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