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3 young strangers save man from drowning at Fort George Island

Rescuer: 'I really do think it was God's grace for allowing us to be there'

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Three young strangers happened to notice a man in a crowded waterway on a busy Memorial Day weekend, and because they paid attention and took action, that man is alive today. 

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Larry Batten shared his near-death experience, gratitude and emotion as he talked to News4Jax about how his life was saved by strangers at Fort George Island the Sunday before the Memorial Day holiday.

"I might not be here," he said with his voice full of emotion.

Batten was on a boat with friends enjoying the long weekend and never imagined a day of relaxing on the water would end with him in ICU.

"I went in the water a little deeper. I don't think I was any higher than my chest (and) all of a sudden, well not all of a sudden, the next thing I knew I was on the land -- on dry land," he described. "Next thing I remember is I was in recovery."

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He later learned three young men he didn't know -- Josh Harrison, Marcus Hardesty and John Hopke -- saved his life.

The three of them were on a boat the same day Batten was out on the water. And they happened to be nearby.

Hopke said they were right where they were meant to be.

"I really do think it was God's grace for allowing us to be there," Hopke said.

In the midst of a big -- and at times chaotic -- crowd having fun on a holiday weekend, the three of them spotted Batten struggling in the water.

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"It looks like he's getting weaker and weaker, and then we all look over and see his face go underwater for the last time, and we see him let go of his hat," Harrison said.

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Luckily, Batten's third rescuer, Marcus Hardesty, is in EMT school. He learned CPR just a year ago.

"I immediately went into action and helped drag him up on shore and started chest compressions. We finally got him a pulse," Hardesty said.

He said it was the first time he'd had to use his CPR training.

"I'm glad I did the class, and I'm glad I was there at the right time," he said.

Batten said saving his life was one thing, but the fact that his three rescuers -- three perfect strangers -- took time out of their own busy lives to visit him in the hospital meant even more.   

"They mean a lot," Batten said with gratitude. "If it wasn't for them, so many people don't want to get involved with stuff, so it means a lot when somebody takes it upon themselves to get in there and do what needs to be done."

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Batten said he feels blessed he was recently able to return to work following weeks of recovery, and he hopes in the coming weeks to meet with his three rescuers again -- the three young men he credits for saving his life.

He wanted to point out he's also grateful for a nurse and a police officer who were both in the area when he nearly drowned. 

Batten said those two jumped in to help Harrison, Hardesty and Hopke as well.