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Last Updated: Friday, 10 October, 2003, 20:36 GMT 21:36 UK
Plucky Texan's marathon swim to safety
Melinda Lopez is helped to safety
Lopez was cold, dehydrated and suffering slight shock when found
A woman's determination to survive an ordeal in the Gulf of Mexico paid off after she managed to raise the alarm by spray-painting a call for help on an oil platform.

Melinda Lopez's troubles started when she fell off a shrimp boat she worked on on Tuesday afternoon (local), more than 60 miles (96km) south of Galveston.

She told the Houston Chronicle that, unobserved by the other crew members, she lost her footing after her shoe came off while climbing a ladder, and slipped into the sea.

The boat chugged on and her cries for help went unanswered leaving Ms Lopez, 32, alone in the rough seas with not even a life jacket to console her.

"I just had to stay strong. I didn't want to go like that," she said.

Going gets tough

"The water was rough," she told the paper. "The waves were coming over my head."

A good swimmer, she was aware of the risks from sharks and other creatures.

At one point during the long hours of darkness her worst fears were realised when she was menaced by some kind of large fish - which eventually went away after she struck out at it.

With the dawn - and an estimated 13 hours after going overboard - she got to an offshore oil platform attracted by a ringing bell, and hauled herself out of the water with her remaining strength.

An board she found no people - but foraged successfully for scraps of left-over food and water.

She also came across spray paint, which she used to write "Help" on the platform's helipad.

Rescuers were already out looking for her, alerted finally by the crew of the trawler, the Ike and Zack.

A jet spotted her sign, and a helicopter was sent to get her late on Wednesday afternoon.

"She showed remarkable presence of mind to do what she did," Coast Guard officer Rob Wyman was quoted as saying.

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