December 3, 2013

Man survives three days at bottom of Atlantic Ocean

The tugboat cook was trapped in an air pocket in the upended ship until rescued by divers.

The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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Harrison Odjegba Okene looks in awe as a rescue diver surfaces into the air pocket that had kept Okene alive for nearly three days, as recorded by the diver’s headcam. Okene was working as a cook aboard a tugboat in the Atlantic Ocean off the Nigerian coast in June when a heavy swell caused the vessel to capsize and sink to the sea bed, where his 11 colleagues drowned. Okene was able to find an air pocket inside the sunken ship, where he survived for nearly three days before being found by a group of South African rescue divers. The video was made available Tuesday.

The Associated Press

He worried about his colleagues — 10 Nigerians and the Ukrainian captain including four young cadets from Nigeria's Maritime Academy. They would have locked themselves into their cabins, standard procedure in an area stalked by pirates.

He got really worried when he heard the sound of fish, shark or barracudas he supposed, eating and fighting over something big.

As the waters rose, he made a rack on top of a platform and piled two mattresses on top.

According to his interview with the Nation: "I started calling on the name of God. ... 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 survived off just one bottle of Coke, all he had to sustain him during the trauma.

Okene really thought he was going to die, he told the Nation, when he heard the sound of a boat engine and anchor dropping, but failed to get the attention of rescuers. He figured, given the size of the boat, that it would take a miracle for a diver to locate him. So he waded across the cabin, stripped the wall down to its steel body, then knocked on it with a hammer.

But "I heard them moving away. They were far away from where I was."

By the time he was saved, relatives already had been told the sailors were dead.

Okene kept faith with the psalm he recited, that promises to "give thanks in your name, Lord," at a service at his Redeemed Christian Church of God.

He was rescued by a diver who first used hot water to warm him up, then attached him to an oxygen mask. Once free of the sunken boat, he was put into a decompression chamber and then safely returned to the surface.

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