Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
Peter Gibson and his two sons – William (blue cap) and Nicholas (red cap) – took on the Alcatraz swim during the Eid break. Courtesy Peter Gibson
Peter Gibson and his two sons – William (blue cap) and Nicholas (red cap) – took on the Alcatraz swim during the Eid break. Courtesy Peter Gibson

Trio led by UAE expat escape from Alcatraz for charity

A UAE resident has raised money for charity by completing the infamous 'Escape from Alcatraz' swim along with his two sons.

ABU DHABI // The date: October 14, 2013. The place: Alcatraz Island Prison, San Francisco, US. The challenge: escape.

It is an ordeal that may have claimed the lives of the jail’s most infamous escapees, John and Clarence Anglin and Frank Morris, on June 11, 1962.

Now, more than 50 years on, a new trio, this one led by British UAE resident Peter Gibson, took on the challenge and emerged cold but triumphant – all in the name of charity.

The original threesome worked for months, late into the night to dig tunnels with plastic cutlery, and placed fake heads in their cell bunks to fool prison guards.

But once outside the notorious prison, they were presented with one more daunting obstacle – 2.5 kilometres of cold, turbulent, shark-infested water.

The prisoners were never seen, or heard from again. Authorities at the time said they were inevitably killed trying to cross the stretch of water, swept away by powerful currents, but their bodies were never recovered.

Mr Gibson and his two sons – William, 26, who works in legal research in London, and Nicholas, 21, a third-year geography and business studies student at Leeds University – took on the Alcatraz swim during the Eid break.

All three men are keen swimmers and had long talked about it.

“I train regularly in Al Jazeera 50-metre public pool three times a week and open-water swim each Saturday morning at Al Bateen Beach or Khalidya Palace Hotel at 7am with friends,” said Peter Gibson, who works for Gasco.

“But it was impossible to prepare for the cold here in Abu Dhabi because the water isn’t as cold, hence the need for acclimatisation swims.”

The waters around The Rock are only between 10°C and 12°C, and experts say no novice should try to make the crossing.

“For two days, admittedly not long enough, prior to the swim we had acclimatisation sessions in the sea, which literally took our breath away,” Mr Gibson said.

“On the first of these days, an ambulance was parked by the beach administering aid to a swimmer whom we later learnt was suffering from hypothermia. It was not an encouraging message.

“For safety reasons we swam together in a pod. The pace was good but the cold slowly makes its impact, the main one being the onset of ‘swimmers claw’, the inability to keep your fingers together due to the cold so the effectiveness of the swim stroke is slowly lost.

“It was something we had never encountered before – apparently a hypothermia indicator.

“We eventually touched shore at the old loading dock for prisoners on their way out to Alcatraz and after a few high-fives, it was back on to the boat to warm up, followed by a few celebration Irish coffees in a local Irish cafe.”

Mr Gibson said completing the challenge, which took them about an hour, with his sons was an experience unlike any other.

“Nothing beats having their companionship over the four days in a busy world, culminating with the swim and being able to share the achievement together,” he said.

The three are still collecting donations but hope to have raised more than Dh10,000 for the Philippines humanitarian charity, Community and Family Services International, with which Mr Gibson has been involved for four years.

“It is an excellent organisation based in Manila that I have become very close to, and I now sit on their board of trustees,” he said.

“In the past year I have taken a close interest in their humanitarian operations, making two visits to Mindanao in the Philippines.

“One was to Cotabato City and the surrounding region that has been a conflict area with many previously internally displaced people working hard to reestablish their lives, and the other to eastern Mindanao, after Typhoon Pablo in December 2012 destroyed the homes and livelihoods of thousands of people.

“So I have seen firsthand the tremendous work CFSI does in partnership with established humanitarian organisations like Unicef, and the strong appreciation they receive from the communities they work in. CFSI really does rebuild people’s lives.

“Apart from their work in Mindanao, they have projects in Manila, Vietnam and Myanmar.

“In Myanmar, CFSI is closely involved in humanitarian work with the Muslim Rohingya people in the south-west of the country, where many thousands of them are IDP after inter-communal conflicts with Buddhists in Rakhine state.”

ksinclair@thenational.ae

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 An Egyptian Orthodox Christian priest give communion during the Palm Sunday service inCairo, Egypt. Mohamed El-Shahed / AFP

Region in focus - April 18, 2014

The best images of the last seven days from around the Gulf and across the Middle East.

 Above, the private pool of Ocean Heights' five-bedroom penthouse flat. Courtesy Christie’s International Real Estate

In pictures: Penthouse flat is height of Dubai luxury living

A five-bedroom penthouse in Ocean Heights in Dubai Marina is on sale for Dh25 million and comes with a private pool and an unparalleled view of Dubai.

Video: Local reactions to a national fishing ban

A federal fishing ban has been imposed by the UAE federal government, but local authorities are taking diiferent approaches to implementing the ban. Two fishermen tell two very different sides of the story. Produced by Paul O'Driscoll

 Hamburg players leave the field after the match against Borussia Moenchengladbach on March 30, 2014. AFP

Hamburg the dinosaur’s time may be up in Bundesliga

Ever-present for 51 years in the German top-flight, Hamburg face the prospect of relegation, writes Ian Hawkey.

 The new Bentley GT Speed convertible on display at a press event of the New York International Auto Show. Jason Szenes / EPA

In pictures: Hot cars at New York International Auto Show

With more than 1 million visitors annually, the New York International Auto Show is one of the most important shows for the US car industry. Here are some of the vehicles to be shown in this year’s edition.

 The cast of Fast & Furious 7, including Michelle Rodriguez and Vin Diesel, centre, on set at Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

Fast & Furious 7 filming in full swing at Emirates Palace

Filming for Fast & Furious 7 has started and we have the first photos of the cast and crew on set at Emirates Palace hotel this morning. Visitors staying at Emirates Palace say they have been kept away from certain areas in the grounds.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National