53-year-old sailor loses his life while saving 5 others

Four students and a safety officer had less than a minute to escape their sinking boat – which the Coast Guard later said had lost its keel – once it began taking water during a regatta on the Gulf of Mexico, two survivors said Monday.

The survivors praised the boat's other safety officer, 53-year-old Roger Stone, for rushing them off the craft within seconds of realizing it was taking water, putting their lives ahead of his own. Divers pulled his body from the boat Sunday afternoon.

“He's my hero. He saved me,” 20-year-old Steven Guy said at a news conference. “I wouldn't be here without him.”

Safety officer Steve Conway said the students kept their composure over 26 hours in the choppy water. They used belts and rigging to hook themselves together, with the five men sharing four life vests, Conway said. They kicked their feet and paddled toward an oil rig, about five miles away.

“We kept focused on the positive,” Conway said.

They kept up their composure, and their optimism, by telling stories and jokes, and dreaming of the first thing they would do back on shore.

Conway envisioned seeing his wife of 33 years, Mary, their four daughters and his unborn grandchild. Guy thought about his parents and brother.

Joe Savana dreamed about going to eat at the restaurant Golden Corral. Wright savored thoughts of a thick burger.

“We knew we would get picked up,” said Guy. “We knew we'd get somewhere.”

Three of the students – Guy, Savana and Travis Wright – attend Texas A&M at Galveston. The fourth, Ross James Busby, attends Texas A&M in College Station.

The five spent Sunday visiting with family and nursing minor sunburn and dehydration.

Bowen Loftin, CEO of Texas A&M at Galveston, expressed condolences to Stone's family, including his wife and two children, in a message posted on the school's Web site.

“We now know that Roger Stone died a hero in the classic sense of the word,” Loftin said on the school's Web site.

Conway is the director of computer information services at Texas A&M at Galveston and assistant coach of the school's Offshore Sailing Team, the school said.

The search for the sailors began Saturday morning after the 38-foot sailboat missed a radio check. The boat, which lost communication around midnight Friday, was one of 26 competing in the Regata de Amigos. The race from Galveston to Veracruz, Mexico, has occurred every even-number year since 1968, according to the regatta's Web site.