Dramatic footage has emerged of the improbable rescue of a crewman who survived for nearly three days aboard a sunken vessel 100 feet below the surface of the Atlantic.
Harrison Okene is the sole survivor of a crew of 12 aboard the capsized Nigerian oil service tug Jascon 4. He managed to breathe inside an air pocket while trapped under the overturned vessel.
His rescue in May made international headlines and footage shot with a diver’s helmet camera recently made its way online.
South African Nico van Heerden was diving on the tugboat 18 miles off Nigeria, coming across bodies as he inched along, when someone suddenly tapped him on the head.
Click play for the video of Okene being found.
“I got a huge fright but was relieved to find someone alive,” the 32-year-old said in a message to his wife, Simoné, according to a report by The Cape Times.
Simoné van Heerden told the newspaper that her husband and his colleagues were searching for bodies aboard the tugboat.
“It took him three hours to open one door. There was one body. He found another two bodies,” she said. “When he turned around and saw that guy’s face … that feeling can’t be explained.”
Once Okene was discovered, the divers showed him how to wear a diving helmet. He was escorted out of the vessel and into a diving bell, then into decompression chambers. He stayed in the chambers for roughly 2-1/2 days.
The cause of the May 26 sinking is still being investigated. The crew reports that conditions were rough, with “turbulent” winds. In a statement, Chevron, which owns the 112-foot tug, said initial reports indicated that heavy swells caused the Jascon 4 to capsize while it was towing an oil tanker.
Okene described the ordeal in an exclusive interview with the Nigerian newspaper The Nation.
“I was dazed, and everywhere was dark as I was thrown from one end of the small cubicle to another,” he said.
Wearing only a pair of boxer shorts, Okene made his way from one part of the vessel to another in the dark until he found two strobe lights. With light, he was able to find tools to build a platform to keep him out of the frigid water.
He said he began reliving his life, thinking about his wife and family, and praying.
“I said: So this is how I am going to die? What would happen to my wife? So she will become a widow. I don’t even have a child yet,” he told The Nation.
Cold, hungry and scared, he soon lost track of time, not realizing his ordeal had reached 62 hours.
When he saw the light from diver van Heerden enter his part of the ship, Okene feared he would not be found, so he jumped into the water in search of his rescuer.
“My hands and feet were very white [pale],” he told The Nation. “When I located him, I was the one who touched the diver. I touched his head, and he was shocked. 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.”
Another video posted June 12 on YouTube purports to be footage shot aboard the sinking Jascon 4. It’s unclear who shot the video or how it could’ve survive the sinking, but the vessel does look like the Jascon 4.