A man who spent three days trapped in an air pocket of a sunken ship was discovered by divers, turning a search for dead bodies into an incredible rescue operation.
Recently released video taken by DCN Diving captured the intense rescue.
Harrison Okene, 29, was a chef on the Jascon 4, an oil company’s ship, when the boat capsized and sunk 100 feet into the ocean off the coast of Nigeria in May due to heavy ocean swells, Reuters reported at the time.
As the ship sunk, Okene was washed away by the rushing water.
“Three guys were in front of me and suddenly water rushed in full force,” Okene told Reuters. “I saw the first one, the second one, the third one just washed away. I knew these guys were dead.”
Of the 12 members on the crew, Okene was the only survivor, finding refuge in a small air pocket of the ship.
The lone survivor began pulling paneling from the walls to use as a raft. For three days he drank Coca Cola, unable to eat or drink water, according to the BBC. Even worse, the salt water started to take the skin off his body and tongue.
“I was there in the water in total darkness just thinking it’s the end,” he said. “I kept thinking the water was going to fill up the room but it did not.”
Despite surviving in pitch-black conditions, Okene said he knew he wasn’t alone.
“I couldn’t see anything, but I could perceive the dead bodies of my crew were nearby,” he said. “I could smell them. The fish came in and began eating the bodies. I could hear the sound. It was horror.”
DCN Diving, a South African scuba diving team, thought they were diving down into the ship to recover those dead bodies, according to The Metro.
The video, taken by diver Nico Van Heerden, features high-pitched voices. Gizmodo reports this is usual for divers breathing in a helium-oxygen mix used in deeper dives.
The rescue is surreal to watch.
As Van Heerden swims through the murky water, supervisor Colby Werrett helps guide the diver through a connected microphone on surface control.
At the 5:30 mark of the video, Van Heerden swims upon what he believes is another dead body.
“There’s someone in the water,” he says. But when the diver reaches for the man’s hand, the hand suddenly squeezes his.
“He’s alive, he’s alive!” Werrett shouts.
As the diver surfaces into the air pocket, Okene can be seen — naked with the exception of his underwear — looking bewildered and disoriented.
Werrett tells Van Heerden to comfort Okene by patting him on the shoulder and giving him a thumbs up.
As the diver prepares Okene with an oxygen helmet, Werrett talks him through the steps.
“You mustn’t panic, you must listen to me,” Werrett tells Okene.
The chef’s rescue was hardly complete, however. After his long ordeal, Okene had to spend another 60 hours in a decompression chamber to rid his body of excess nitrogen before being brought fully to the surface, according to Slate. The excess nitrogen could have created “lethal gas bubbles in his body,” according to Gizmodo.
Okene told Reuters that he called on God, and that his rescue was a miracle. Despite his positive outlook, he said the event still haunts him.
“When I am at home sometimes it feels like the bed I am sleeping in is sinking,” he said. “I think I’m still in the sea again. I jump up and I scream.”