The Mercer University students told rescuers they waded chest-deep in the water Monday night, trying to find a way out of the Ocmulgee River swamp in central Georgia.
Macon-Bibb County Fire Sgt. Mitch Scott said the two men and two women, who were wearing only bathing suits, had no idea what they had gotten themselves into.
“They don’t know how blessed they were,” he said. “There are gators down there that would eat you whole.”
Firefighters also encountered a 200-pound wild hog during the ordeal.
The students had headed down the river on inflatable rafts before becoming lost, The Telegraph of Macon reported. They called for help around 9 p.m., but the only working phone they had was down to eight percent battery strength, Fire Cpl. Garin Flanders said.
One of the four students was from Florida and the other three were from outside of Middle Georgia and did not seem to be familiar with the Ocmulgee, authorities said.
Boaters who get lost on the river should stay on the bank and call for help.
“When you get out into the woods, we can’t get to you as easily,” he said.