(CNN) -- A college student who survived a boat sinking with four others said Monday that a safety officer who died on their boat was a hero for staying behind and pushing him out.
Steven Guy, a Texas A&M University sailor, said Roger Stone saved him and another sailor by helping them to safety.
"He is my hero," Guy said. "He saved me. If it wasn't for him, I would not be here."
The group never saw Stone after he pushed the two men out of a hatch in the boat, the mariners said. Stone, the boat's second safety officer, was found dead by the Coast Guard on Sunday afternoon.
The two men said they spent a day in open water after their vessel sank in the Gulf of Mexico.
The survivors -- four university students and a safety officer -- told the Coast Guard they were forced off their sailboat after it took on water and capsized early Saturday.
The five survivors were found and airlifted to land around 2 a.m. Sunday, the Coast Guard said.
The group had to get out of the rapidly sinking sailboat so quickly, they could get only four safety vests for five people, safety officer Steve Conway said Monday. They had to huddle in the water to keep each other afloat, he said. Watch the rescue and see Conway describe the ordeal »
"With five people and four life jackets, we had to watch the person without the life jacket closely," he said. "These young men did a tremendous job. They pulled themselves through. They had a fierce will to live."
R. Bowen Loftin, CEO and vice president of Texas A&M at Galveston, expressed condolences to the Stone family in a letter posted along with status updates on the school's Web site.
"We hope they can take some comfort in knowing all five survivors of this tragic accident credit Mr. Stone with heroic efforts that were instrumental in making possible their survival," Loftin said on the site. "We now know that Roger Stone died a hero in the classic sense of the word."
Conway said that as the group huddled in the water, they saw rescue jets go by three times before they were spotted.
"It is really discouraging when a plane comes out and flies over and leaves," he said.
Coast Guard Lt. Justo Rivera, who was flying the aircraft that rescued the men, told CNN affiliate KHOU that a flashlight helped save them. While conducting search patterns, Coast Guard members spotted the light through their night vision goggles, Rivera said. It was being held by one of the men.
He said that because the Coast Guard was searching such a vast area, the flashlight was "instrumental" in the rescue.
"It's your proverbial needle in a haystack," Rivera told KHOU.
During the 26-hour wait, the group was nibbled by curious reed fish and circled by a fish with triangular fin that extended from the water like a shark's fin.
"They bumped up against us and kind of nibbled on our clothes," Conway said. "You don't know how big the thing is and how hungry it is. I was always aware of the risk of sharks."
The group's sailboat, named the Cynthia Woods, was one of about two dozen boats heading from Galveston, Texas, to Veracruz, Mexico, for the annual Veracruz Regatta race, which began Friday.
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