South Jersey native rescued at sea in Florida

WOODBURY, N.J. - July 21, 2013

Sunburnt, but smiling, Heather Barnes says she is lucky to be alive.

"I feel like I cheated death or cheated the ocean out of something," said Heather Barnes.

While snorkeling and studying the islands of Cayos Cochinos, the 20-year-old New College of Florida student and South Jersey native, was having a blast.

Barnes, an aspiring marine biologist, had been there for three weeks.

Friday was her last day, and at 4:00 a.m., she swam out wearing a wetsuit and fins to check on her coral samples.

"I couldn't sleep, so I went to collect coral samples," she wrote on her Facebook page.

She got a cramp and drifted too far and ended up lost at sea.

Hours passed before the resort realized she was missing.

Heather said she accepted the fact that she may not make it back at all.

"I accepted that maybe I won't make it, but then all of a sudden, I'm here. I have to keep going," she said.

In Woodbury, New Jersey, her mother turned to prayer, and then she got the call she had been waiting for.

"About 10:45 Friday night the phone rang, and the most beautiful voice I ever heard on the other end said, 'Mommy, I'm fine. I swam all day; I'm fine, I'm alive,'" said Jennifer Dukelow.

A couple found her, saved her and kayaked her back to safety where her friends were waiting for her with open arms.

"Every single door on the island, people were pouring out. People were like kissing me and touching me and holding me and asking me what I wanted," said Heather.

Heather says she will go back to the water, but would like to take a break for now. She is nursing severe sunburn and stings from jellyfish.

She is staying with her grandmother in Florida and hopes to be back in New Jersey soon.

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