Man survives 60 hours underwater in sunken tugboat

Dec. 4, 2013 at 12:01 AM
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LAGOS, Nigeria, Dec. 4 (UPI) -- A Nigerian crew member in a capsized tugboat 100 feet under the Atlantic survived 2 1/2 days in an air pocket and was rescued by surprised divers, video shows.

Harrison Odjegba Okene, a cook on the AHT Jascon 4, an oil service tugboat contracted by Chevron Corp., was in the bathroom wearing only black boxer shorts around 4:30 a.m. May 26 when the boat -- one of three towing an oil tanker -- suddenly lurched and keeled over off Nigeria's southwestern coast.

The boat hit "a sudden ocean swell," Chevron later said.

The other 11 crew members -- 11 Nigerians and the Ukrainian captain -- had not awakened yet and were still locked in their cabins. They died in the accident, authorities said.

Indeed, authorities said they thought all 12 crew members had died.

"I made my way out of the toilet, groped through the dark into a place I imagined was the officers' restroom," Okene told The (Lagos, Nigeria) Nation in an interview published June 6.

"From there I moved to engineers' office," Okene said. "I wasn't seeing, I was just feeling my way with my hands. I knew that if there is a vent, I would find a door, key and the knob."

He said he found some tools and a life vest with two flashlights along the way. He said he took the flashlights from the vest and stuffed them into his boxers.

He eventually found a cabin of the upended vessel that felt safe. It had a 4-foot-high pocket of air.

He then began a long wait, not knowing what was ahead. He sporadically sipped Coca-Cola from a bottle.

He told the newspaper he started playing mental tapes of his life, remembering times with his mother, family, friends and especially his wife, Akpos Okene.

He said their fifth anniversary was coming up in a few days.

The water got colder -- almost freezing -- and started rising in the cabin, he said, so he stacked two mattresses on top of each other and built a rack, all the time praying.

"I prayed about a hundred times. When I was tired, I started calling on the name of God. I was just calling on His name for divine intervention. I started reminiscing on the verses I read before I slept. I read the Bible from Psalm 54 to 92. My wife had sent me the verses to read that night when she called me before I went to bed."

He felt fish swimming in and out of his space, he said, and at one point he heard a noise that sounded like a boat.

Waddling through the room, he found more tools, including a hammer. After stripping the cabin wall to its steel body, "I started using the hammer to hit the wall to attract the divers," he said. "I heard them moving about. They were far away from where I was. I did that for some minutes and stopped. After a while, the sound died."

After another day or so -- Okene couldn't tell the time -- he heard another sound, he told The Nation. This time it got closer and he could feel movement in the water underneath him.

Sensing this was his last chance, Okene jumped into the icy water and went in search of his rescuer, he said.

"When I located him, I was the one who touched the diver, I touched his head and he was shocked," Okene said. "He was searching and I just saw the light, so I jumped into the water. As he was shocked, he stretched out his hands. I touched him."

Okene said he heard one of the divers looking for bodies shout, "He's alive!"

A video of this moment and what happened afterward was released Tuesday.

Okene's rescuer, a South African identified as Nico, radioed his discovery to a boat at the surface, which lowered an oxygen mask and safety rope.

The boat also lowered hot water to warm Okene up.

Okene then put on the oxygen mask and held onto the safety rope.

Once out of the boat, he was moved into a decompression chamber and later safely returned to the surface some 60 hours after the boat capsized.

"I will just attribute everything to the grace of God," Akpos Okene said.

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