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Sydney Festival of Boating 2021 LEADERBOARD

Survival story of the week- Rescue after two days in air bubble

by K P Waran on 17 Jun 2013
Diver and sunken boat - photo from story by Marc Aumarc SW
Truth, as we know, can be stranger than fiction, but some stories told as true, almost defy belief. As a cruising sailor, going to the bottom of the ocean in your boat is every mariner's nightmare, but here, from Africa, comes the story of amazing survival by a crew member on a tug boat, sent to the bottom by a giant wave.

29-year-old Harrison Okene, a cook on the Jascon-4 tugboat crew in Nigeria, was below decks cooking some meat pies in stormy weather when a large wave capsized the boat off the coast of Delta State. It rolled and sank to the bottom, 30 metres below, with Harrison and many of the rest of the crew trapped inside.

What happened next is what is incredible. Harrison survived for over than two days by breathing from a four foot tall air bubble in a bathroom. His description of the ordeal is almost unbelievable.

He told the story to David Tracy of Jalopnik: 'I was there in the water in total darkness just thinking it's the end. I kept thinking the water was going to fill up the room but it did not...I was so hungry but mostly so, so thirsty. The salt water took the skin off my tongue.'

Okene used an overturned washbasin to stay afloat, but the cold water was taking its toll. He decided to leave his air bubble to build a raft out of wall paneling. What greeted him as soon as he left the bathroom was terrifying.

'I was very, very cold and it was black. I couldn't see anything...But I could perceive the dead bodies of my crew were nearby. The fish came in and began eating the bodies. I could hear the sound. It was a horror.'

After about 60 hours stuck in a ship at the bottom of the ocean, Okene heard a sound.

'I heard a sound of a hammer hitting the vessel. Boom, boom, boom. I swam down and found a water dispenser. I pulled the water filter and I hammered the side of the vessel hoping someone would hear me. Then the diver must have heard a sound.'

Seeing that a diver was about to swim past his room, Okene jumped into the water and tapped the diver on the shoulder. The diver gave Okene an oxygen mask, and after more than two days under the ocean, Okene made it to the surface. The same cannot be said about ten of his crew members, who were found dead in the wreckage. One of his crew members is still missing.

Okene had to go through over 60 hours of decompression to safely get his body pressure back to normal. While he's physically fully recovered, he still has nightmares about the ordeal.

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