Orrum, N.C. — A Raeford man says he's lucky to be alive after surviving a five-hour ordeal in which he floated for 7miles along the Lumber River over the weekend.
Leroy Thomas, 60, went for a swim around 3:30 p.m. Saturday in the often-shallow river on the Hoke-Scotland county line, near Turnpike Road, when the current swept him away.
"The next thing I knew, I was in the current under the bridge, and I was trying to make it back to shore," he said Tuesday, a day after returning home from a local hospital, where he spent two days being treated for injuries as a result of almost drowning.
When Thomas never returned from his swim, his girlfriend, Ludy Barbour, called 911.
"I walked that creek, as far as I could, hollerin', 'Leroy, Leroy,' and looking in the water," she said.
Rescuers – emergency crews, wildlife officers, state troopers, sheriff's deputies – from Scotland and Hoke counties responded and searched for hours, Barbour says, but Thomas was nowhere in sight.
Thomas says had he been able to get to the edge of the water, he might have been able to get out but that the current kept him in the middle where it was strongest.
Around 8:30 p.m., he climbed out of the water near Wagram and crawled along a gravel road until he could wave down a car on U.S. Highway 401.
The driver called the Scotland County Sheriff's Office.
"I didn't think I was going to make it, but undoubtedly, it's God's will I made it."
Despite the 7 miles of logs and limbs, a path that rescuers called treacherous, he made it out alive.
Barbour, however, says she never lost hope.
"Heck no," she said. "I was praying. You can't lose hope when you're praying."
Safe and sound, Thomas says he doesn't plan on swimming in the Lumber River again.