Blake Spataro, 19, swam and floated in the ocean for about 10 hours after being swept out to sea by a dangerous riptide

By Char Adams
July 16, 2018 11:14 AM

Blake Spataro, of Bossier City, Louisiana, was looking forward to a relaxing beach-side dinner with his father, Kirk Spataro, when they stopped at Georgia’s St. Simon’s Island last Tuesday. But their father-son vacation quickly took a turn for the worse when a dangerous riptide swept the 19-year-old out to sea.

“He sat down in about a foot of water to cool off and, as soon as he sat down, a wave knocked him under the water and drug him out,” Blake’s mother, Janice Spataro, tells PEOPLE. “He said he kept trying to swim to the top, then the next thing he knew, he popped up way out in the ocean.”

Kirk, 55, who had been grilling their dinner on the beach, didn’t know what happened to his son. He yelled for Blake and searched the area before reporting the boy missing around 8 p.m. Search teams were immediately at the scene, but Kirk says they didn’t expect Blake to be in the water.

“He thought he had just walked down the beach and gotten lost. He thought he’d find his way back to the beach. Nobody knew he was in the water. Nobody knew for certain,” Janice says. “I was scared. I felt helpless. They were 14 hours away from me and I wanted to get in the car and drive down there.”

Blake Spataro after rescue
| Credit: Courtesy Spataro Family

According to Blake’s account, he began screaming when he found himself out in the ocean, with no land in sight, Janice, 57, says. He panicked as he realized no one knew where he was, and became afraid as the sun went down and it began getting dark.

He swam for as long as he could and floated on his back when he needed a break, according to Janice. Blake swam and floated for hours. Back on shore, the Coast Guard called off the search around 4 a.m. and officials declared that the rescue efforts had become a recovery mission.

Credit: Courtesy Spataro Family

“He said he knew there was a chance he could die out there,” Janice says. He almost gave up because he knew nobody knew he was out there. He didn’t think he’d survive. Then he saw the blue, flashing light on the Coast Guard boat in the distance.”

She adds: “He said that it gave him the will and determination to make it to shore.”

Blake Spataro
| Credit: Courtesy Spataro Family

Blake kept on swimming and, around 6 a.m., the teen made it to Sea Island — about four miles from where he was pulled into the water. Janice says that, after leaving the water, Blake walked for nearly 30 minutes before finding help at a local golf course. He immediately called his parents.

“When I finally talked to him, he’s like, ‘Hey, mom! I’m alive!’ … like, no big deal,” Janice tells PEOPLE. “I was so happy. I was ecstatic and relieved. We’ve had every emotion from jubilation to devastation and everything in between. [Authorities said] this is truly, truly a miracle. They’re amazed that he survived out there for that long.”

Blake was taken to a local hospital where he was treated for dehydration and mild hypothermia. He suffered no major injuries and was released from the hospital after about seven hours, Janice tells PEOPLE. He returned to Bossier on Saturday.

“I don’t think the reality of the situation has sunk in yet. He’s doing fine. He’s acting like it’s no big deal. It was just another day at the beach for him,” Janice says, adding that Blake was awarded an honorary Coast Guard medal and a medal for bravery and courage.

As for Blake, he described the trip simply to WSOC.

“Worst vacation ever, but also my most exciting ever,” he said.