Sandra Tsiligeridu and a group of her friends were returning to the island of Kos from a day-trip excursion to the small island of Pserimos, when she spotted a man in the water.
Thinking it was a diver in the water, they approached slowly, as to not hit him, Tsiligeridu said in a Facebook post and in interviews with Greek media. As they got closer, Tsiligeridu found 28-year-old Mohammed floating in the water, clutching on to a life vest.
Tsiligeridu shared her story, and the above photo, on her Facebook page on August 28.
In an interview with Mega Channel in Greece, Tsiligeridu said the man told her he and 39 other Syrians departed from Turkey at 5 a.m. on a small boat. When they lost one of the two paddles, Mohammed told Tsiligeridu he jumped in the water to grab it. Due to high winds and strong currents, the man was not able to swim back to the boat. Mohammed told Tsiligeridu he was in the water for 13 hours.
Mohammed's family reported him missing once they arrived to Kos seven hours later. The coast guard searched for the man but after not locating him for five hours, they presumed him dead, according to Mega.
Once Tsiligeridu's boat approached the man, she said she grabbed him with one hand, while releasing the boat's ladder with the other. One of her friends on the boat, Dimitris Dellis is a doctor and administered first aid. They gave Mohammed dry clothes and blankets to keep him warm until they reached Kos.
"He was exhausted, he had hypothermia," Dellis told Mega. "We wrapped him in towels and he barely moved until we arrived at the port."
According to Greek news reports, Mohammed has reunited with his family.
"He grabbed my hand and said 'thank you,'" Tsiligeridu said. "That 'thank you' is something I will personally never forget."
Greece is grappling with how to handle the thousands of people crossing into the country. The International Organization for Migration, which is based in Geneva, said that nearly 250,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe so far in 2015 with about 2,300 people dying. More than 134,000 people have arrived to Greece from Turkey this year.
BuzzFeed News has reached out to Tsiligeridu and the Greek Coast Guard for comment.
Mary Ann Georgantopoulos is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
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