Ross Ruddell/US Coast Guard/AP
07/25/2013 AT 03:45 PM EDT
A lobsterman who fell overboard and spent 12 hours floating in the Atlantic ocean credited his rubber boots for saving his life.
John Aldridge, a fisherman for 19 years, was not wearing a life jacket when he fell into the ocean and used the boots for floatation until he was found Wednesday afternoon, more than 40 miles from his boat.
"These boots saved my life," Aldridge told Newsday
. "I put one under each arm and I said, 'I'm going to live. I can do this.' "
The ordeal began while he was on watch duty aboard the Anna Mary
, a 44-ft. lobster boat out of Montauk, N.Y. He was trying to move a cooler when the handle snapped off, sending him "straight out the back of the boat" around 3:30 a.m. Wednesday, he said.
Aldridge, 45, said he spotted boats for several hours but they did not see him. He said he also saw "the whole gamut of sea life coming at me," and feared a shark attack.
The crew notified the Coast Guard that he was missing around 6:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Coast Guard crews from across New England and commercial fishing crews coordinated a search that covered 780 square miles. A Coast Guard helicopter out of Cape Cod finally spotted Aldridge and hoisted him up to safety at around 3 p.m. Wednesday.
A resident of Montauk, he was taken to a hospital in Falmouth, Mass., for treatment of dehydration, exposure and hypothermia. He was released Thursday morning.
His father, John Aldridge Sr., of Oakdale, said his son sounded well when he spoke to him briefly on the phone.
"He's still pretty sore, a lot of sunburn, a lot of rash. Using his boots as a support, he's got a real rash under his arms," he said, adding that his son took off his boots, turned them upside down and pushed them down to keep the air in "and that kept him somehow buoyant."
He described the ocean conditions as "rolling" waves of about four to five feet.
"It's unbelievable the relief that we felt yesterday when we got the news" he was safe, said the elder Aldridge. "The Coast Guard notified us every two hours of the progress they were making. I can't say enough about them."
Lt. Joe Klinker, a Coast Guard spokesman, said: "This ending had a lot of people shaking hands and smiling."