As a South African rescue diver probed the wreckage of an overturned tugboat in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Nigeria this summer, it was assumed that all he’d be doing would be recovering the bodies of those who perished.
However, as he was swimming through the murky water inside the capsized boat on May 28, a hand suddenly reached toward him out of the gloom.
It was the ship’s cook, Harrison Okene, who had somehow survived for approximately 60 hours in only his underwear in the freezing cold water by breathing from a small air pocket and taking sips of Coca-Cola.
Video of Okene’s dramatic rescue in May shows the moment his hand penetrated the darkness to alert the diver that he was still alive. Then it a shirtless Okene is shown from the waist up.
“He’s alive! He’s alive!” the diver exclaims to a colleague on the surface who is guiding him.
“Just reassure him,” the diver’s colleague says. “Just reassure him. Pat him on the shoulder.”
Okene was the only one of 12 crew members who survived when the Jacon-4 tugboat capsized on May 26 in heavy Atlantic storm swells after assisting an oil tanker that was filling up at a Chevron platform. Divers recovered 10 other bodies; one other crew member was never found.
The young cook was in a bathroom at 4:50 a.m. on May 26 when the tugboat began to turn over and water started pouring in. Okene forced open the bathroom door and was soon swept down a hallway into another bathroom, where he survived by breathing from a small air bubble and keeping his head above the slowly rising water. It was May 28 by the time Okene saw the light mounted on the diver’s head and reached out to grab him.
The diving team put Okene in an oxygen mask and diver’s suit and brought him to the surface, more than 2 ½ days after the ship initially capsized. Okene then was put in a decompression chamber for another 60 hours because he had been underwater so long that his body pressure needed to slowly return to normal to ward off potentially fatal exposure to regular air pressure.
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