Entombed at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean in an upended tugboat for three days, Harrison Odjegba Okene begged G-d for a miracle.
The Nigerian cook survived by breathing an ever-dwindling supply of oxygen in an air pocket. A video of Okene’s rescue in May has been widely viewed.
To this day, Okene believes his rescue after 72 hours underwater at a depth of 30 meters (about 100 feet) is a sign of divine deliverance. The other 11 seamen aboard the Jascon 4 died.
Divers sent to the scene were looking only for bodies, according to Tony Walker, project manager for the Dutch company DCN Diving.
The divers, who were working on a neighboring oil field 120 kilometers (75 miles) away when they were deployed, had already pulled up four bodies.
So when a hand appeared on the screen Walker was monitoring in the rescue boat, showing what the diver in the Jascon saw, everybody assumed it was another corpse.
“The diver acknowledged that he had seen the hand and then, when he went to grab the hand, the hand grabbed him!” Walker said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
“It was frightening for everybody,” he said. “For the guy that was trapped because he didn’t know what was happening. It was a shock for the diver while he was down there looking for bodies, and we (in the control room) shot back when the hand grabbed him on the screen.”
On the video, there’s an exclamation of fear and shock from Okene’s rescuer, and then joy as the realization sets in. Okene recalls hearing: “There’s a survivor! He’s alive.”
Walker said Okene couldn’t have lasted much longer.
“He was incredibly lucky he was in an air pocket but he would have had a limited time (before) … he wouldn’t be able to breath anymore.”
The full video of the rescue captured by divers was released by DCN Diving after a request from The Associated Press. Initially, a shorter version of the rescue emerged on the internet. The authenticity of the video was confirmed through conversations with DCN employees in the Netherlands. The video showing Okene was also consistent with additional photos of him on the rescue ship. The AP also contacted Okene on Tuesday who confirmed the events.