A scuba diver thinking he was on a recovery mission after a tugboat sank off the coast of Nigeria got a frightening but welcome shock: a human hand to reach toward him.
The hand belonged to the ship’s cook, Harrison Okene, who survived in an air pocket underwater for approximately 60 hours. He took small breaths of air and sips of Coca-Cola for nearly two and a half days after the boat capsized on May 26 from large ocean swells in the Atlantic Ocean, Reuters reports.
A video of Okene’s rescue in May was only recently released, showing Okene’s hand reaching toward the diver in murky water, and then an image of Okene sitting shirtless in the air pocket.
"He's alive! He's alive!" the diver is heard saying to his colleague. "Just reassure him,'' the diver's colleague says. "Just reassure him. Pat him on the shoulder."
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The tugboat had been assisting an oil tanker filling up at a Chevron platform when it sank on May 26, taking Okene and 11 other crew members down with it. A search operation had been called off, and divers were called in to recover dead bodies.
"The rescue operation involving helicopters and other vessels swung into action almost immediately," marine and energy industry specialists DCN, whose divers eventually rescued Okene, said in a statement. “As Internet reports about the accident continued to develop, the realization grew among the divers that there could still be survivors of the Jascon 4, trapped in an air pocket."
Okene was brought to the surface wearing an oxygen mask and diver’s suit. He was then put in a decompression chamber for 60 hours to acclimate his body to the regular air pressure.
"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," Okene told Reuters, adding that parts of his skin peeled away after days spent in salt water. "I was so hungry but mostly so, so thirsty. The salt water took the skin off my tongue," he said.
Okene says he was in the bathroom at 4:50 a.m. when he felt the tugboat capsize. He opened the door and was swept along a narrow passageway into another bathroom. By the time the boat flipped, he found himself holding onto the overturned sink trying to keep his head above water.
“I was very, very cold and it was black. I couldn't see anything," Okene said. "But I could perceive the dead bodies of my crew were nearby. I could smell them. The fish came in and began eating the bodies. I could hear the sound. It was horror."