In the vast expanse of the ocean, where the whims of nature often dictate survival, Harrison Okene's story stands as a testament to the unbreakable human spirit. This Nigerian sailor faced an unimaginable ordeal while trapped in a sunken ship at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean for three harrowing days. Okene's remarkable survival and eventual rescue captured the world's attention, highlighting the incredible strength of the human spirit in seemingly impossible circumstances. This article delves into the extraordinary journey of Harrison Okene, exploring his background, the tragic events that led to his entrapment, and the incredible rescue that defied all odds.
Early Life and Maritime Career
Harrison Okene was born in Nigeria, and from a young age, he developed a passion for the sea. He dreamed of becoming a sailor and exploring the vast oceans. In pursuit of his dreams, he embarked on a career in the maritime industry, working on various vessels, including tugboats. The allure of the expansive and unpredictable sea compelled him to answer its call, leading him to pursue a career as a sailor.
With courage and determination, Okene embraced the challenges and adventures that awaited him on the open waters, setting the stage for the incredible journey that would later define his life.
The Fateful Day
On the ill-fated day of May 26, 2013, Harrison Okene embarked on a routine voyage as a cook aboard the Jascon-4, a tugboat operated by the West African subsidiary of the Dutch company West African Ventures. The vessel set sail from the Nigerian port of Escravos en route to a nearby oilfield. Unbeknownst to Okene and his fellow crew members, this journey would soon turn into an unforgettable nightmare.
The Jascon-4 was navigating through difficult waters about 30 kilometers off the coast of Nigeria when it was assaulted by torrential rain and waves that were large enough to demolish the vessel.
The Calamity Unfolds
In the treacherous Atlantic waters, the Jascon-4 battled against the fury of the ocean. The waves unleashed their relentless force, pummeling the tugboat without mercy. Within moments, the vessel succumbed to the power of the tempest, plunging into the depths of the abyss. Amidst the chaos, Harrison Okene and his fellow crew members fought valiantly for their lives, caught in a desperate struggle against the tumultuous waters that threatened to consume them.
In interviews with various media outlets, he expressed his disbelief at the sudden turn of events. "Before we knew, we were sinking," Okene recounted during an interview with Nine News Australia.
The Underestimated Power of the Sea
"We had been sailing for many years. We had never had any issues before." Harrison Okene, reflecting on the ill-fated voyage, expressed a sense of disbelief and shock at the events that unfolded. With years of sailing experience under their belts, Okene and his crew were seasoned seafarers who believed they knew the sea intimately. This awful event was the first time they had ever had to deal with anything of consequence.
In the midst of total chaos and despair, Harrison Okene summoned all of his strength and resolve to fight against insurmountable challenges and begin the struggle to rescue his own life.
Despite the mayhem on the Jascon-4, Harrison Okene searched urgently for a way to get off the ship. But many doors were shut, a precaution taken to prevent pirates from boarding the ship. Okene was caught in a toilet in the officers' cabins while the ship sank and the water level rose. The relentless inflow of water rendered his escape impossible, and the ship continued its descent to the ocean floor.
In this dire situation, Harrison confronted the horrifying reality of his predicament—trapped within the confines of an enclosed space as the ship continued its descent into the unfathomable depths of the sea.
By an extraordinary stroke of luck, a small pocket of air remained intact within the confines of the restroom, where Okene was trapped. This air supply granted him the ability to breathe, yet he was immersed in pitch darkness and subjected to bone-chilling cold. The frigid temperatures underwater took a toll on his body, intensifying the struggle for survival. He could feel the clock ticking away faster and faster.
The well-being of his family absorbed Okene's thoughts, his wife's future, and the enormous questions of how he would escape. What lay ahead for him in this horrible struggle?
Reflecting on his time spent in the icy depths, Harrison Okene vividly remembered the icy cold that penetrated every part of his body. “Underwater, it was so, so, so, cold," he said. "I was struggling to stay alive, wondering how long the air would last. I was thinking about my family, my wife, what would happen, how would she live, how can I get out, and thinking about my life as well."
While trapped, he spent a lot of time talking to God to strengthen himself and maintain his mental confidence in his survival. "I prayed a lot," he remarked briefly.
Exposure to Extremely Cold Water Can Be Fatal
Stripped to his underpants, with his oxygen supply rapidly diminishing and no food or water in sight, Harrison Okene was in imminent danger. The water temperature around him was dangerously low, and at a depth of 30 meters, a person's core temperature may drop to the point of death in a matter of minutes or hours. In order to stay warm while diving in such cold water, divers typically wear insulated suits.
Okene's unique situation, being confined within an air pocket, potentially allowed him to elevate himself out of the water partially, buying him precious time to maintain his body temperature.
What Is an Air Pocket?
An air pocket is a small enclosed space within a larger volume, typically filled with air or a mixture of gases. In the context of underwater emergencies, an air pocket can be formed when a portion of a submerged structure remains above the waterline, creating a pocket of trapped air. These pockets can provide a vital lifeline for individuals, allowing them to breathe and potentially survive in otherwise inhospitable conditions.
Air pockets can be found in sunken vessels, caves, or even debris from collapsed buildings. They serve as temporary refuges, offering a limited supply of breathable air until rescue or escape is possible.
In Search for Freedom
Harrison Okene made a number of attempts to release himself from the limitations of the water-filled wreck as he relentlessly pursued his goal of escaping the situation. Braving the darkness and the treacherous conditions, he followed a rope in search of a possible route to safety. However, each attempt proved futile, forcing him to retreat back to his small air pocket with limited options and the looming uncertainty of his fate.
Okene had no choice but to wait, struggling with the prospect of the end. It was a terrifying experience of courage and acceptance as he faced the truth of his situation.
Time passed while Okene sat in the dark, pressed up against the wall. Then he heard something that gave him the willies: the "bite of sharks" devouring something within the ship. "I never knew if they were sharks or not. It was so dark," he said. "I heard them biting something. I was scared. I had to stay and keep watch to see if something would come in my direction.
Harrison Okene's anxiety about being eaten by sharks only added to the other difficulties he was already facing. He was already scared, but the shadows and darkness made him feel extremely helpless.
Recovering the Bodies of Lost Sailors
An unforeseen turn of events occurred as Harrison Okene sought to make sense of the situation he was in. The South African salvage firm DCN Global had dispatched a team of divers to a sunken ship with the grim job of recovering the bodies of dead crew members. They were pessimistic about their ability to save anyone and had no idea that they were on the verge of making a groundbreaking discovery.
However, their arrival was soon to uncover an extraordinary miracle that defied all expectations and offered a glimmer of hope amidst the tragedy that befell Jascon-4 and its crew.
A Ray of Hope
With unwavering determination, Harrison Okene waited and watched in the depths of darkness and bone-chilling cold. After enduring a grueling 60 hours of confinement, a glimmer of hope emerged. The sound of knocking reverberated through the ship, catching Okene's attention. And then, to his astonishment, a sight he had nearly lost hope of witnessing appeared before him—light piercing through the inky blackness of the water. His prayers had been answered!
A ray of hope pierced his heart, giving him renewed strength. The light signaled the possibility of rescue, breathing new life into Okene's weary spirit and reaffirming his unwavering resolve to survive.
After enduring nearly two-and-a-half harrowing days, Okene's prayers were finally answered when he saw the light. A team of South African divers had arrived to assess the sunken vessel and retrieve the bodies of the crew. In a moment of desperate hope, Okene cautiously extended his hand, gently touching the arm of a diver. Then he swiftly removed his hand and waved, hoping to signal his presence without frightening the diver.
The recovery camera captured the diver's face, frozen in a moment of shock and confusion, as the realization dawned upon him that a living person had been discovered amidst the sunken vessel.
Tears of Relief
Overwhelmed by emotion, Harrison Okene tearfully recounted the moment he was discovered, saying, "When he came in, I just cried." His rescue was literally a race against time. Eric Hexdall, a nurse practitioner and clinical director of diving medicine at the Duke Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Environmental Physiology, estimated that Okene would have only lived a few more hours if he had stayed where he was found in the vessel.
The timing of the rescue was, therefore, critical, emphasizing the short window of chance that existed to save Okene from certain death. Given the circumstances, it truly qualifies as a miracle.
From Body Recovery To Rescue
Alex Gibbs, a life support technician on the recovery team, vividly recalls the moment when their goal expanded from recovery to rescue. Gibbs experienced a range of emotions upon learning that Harrison Okene had been found alive. The unexpected discovery gave them hope again after days of searching for bodies. Despite his initial delight, Gibbs now acknowledges he was worried about Okene's condition and the challenges of retrieving him safely.
Ascending too rapidly could have been fatal, and given how deep Okene was stuck, careful planning was essential. The crew was responsible for protecting Okene's health and mitigating the possibility of decompression illness.
The Difficult Rescue Mission
Harrison Okene's body had built up deadly quantities of nitrogen, which made his evacuation from the depths extremely difficult for the rescue team. Decompression sickness, sometimes known as "the bends," can develop if an individual rapidly ascends in pressure without taking the necessary precautions. The crew had to keep a close eye on Okene's oxygen levels and make adjustments as necessary to keep him safe during the climb to the surface.
They managed nitrogen release to minimize rapid decompression and ensure Okene's safe return to the surface. This delicate process required expertise, precision, and constant monitoring to protect Okene's well-being.
Fresh Air Issue
To address the urgent need for fresh air for Harrison Okene, the rescue team swiftly deployed an air hose to provide him with a continuous supply of breathable air. However, an additional concern arose as Okene had already been saturated with air, necessitating a shift to an oxygen and helium mix. While this was not standard practice, it was a necessary adaptation to prevent the risks associated with nitrogen saturation during the ascent.
The team carefully managed the complexities of the situation and altered the gas mixture in a professional manner to secure Okene's safety and assist in his slow return to the surface.
Safe Return to the Surface
To ensure the safe ascent of Harrison Okene, the rescue team equipped him with a diving helmet and carefully guided him into a diving bell, which was specifically designed to maintain internal pressure. Though Okene lost consciousness during the transfer, his resilient spirit allowed him to survive the challenging ordeal. The diving bell then transported him safely to the surface, where he was subsequently transferred to a decompression chamber.
Over two days, Okene underwent decompression treatment, a vital step in gradually adjusting his body to the changing pressure and ensuring his recovery from the effects of prolonged time spent at depth.
Amidst the chaos of the sinking Jascon-4, Harrison Okene initially held the belief that his fellow 11 crew members had successfully made it to the surface while he remained trapped. The eventual realization that he was the only survivor came as a shocking and emotional revelation. Okene's journey from despair to hope, and the subsequent discovery of his solitary survival, added a poignant layer to his already remarkable tale of resilience.
The knowledge that he alone had endured the harrowing ordeal underscored the magnitude of his survival and the profound impact it would have on his life moving forward.
As soon as Harrison Okene reached the surface, he was carefully moved inside a diving bell, which was able to maintain the required level of pressure for his safe transportation. From there, he was placed inside a decompression chamber, where he would undergo the gradual process of decompression. Throughout this time, Alex Gibbs, the life support technician, remained by Okene's side, tending to his needs and ensuring his well-being.
The decompression chamber provided a controlled environment where Okene could slowly adjust to the changing pressure, allowing his body to release accumulated gases and avoid potential complications safely.
During Okene's three-day decompression period, Alex Gibbs was in charge of his care. As Okene's primary caretaker, Gibbs made sure he was comfortable and well taken care of. He did things like feed Okene, change his bedsheets, give him his medicine, and connect him with the medical staff, the management, and the people back on shore. Okene's health was continuously examined to identify and manage any changes in his condition early on.
Recognizing the magnitude of Okene's ordeal, Gibbs empathetically acknowledged the shock and bewilderment that he would have experienced after being trapped at the bottom of the ocean for days.
The Ocean’s Effect on Okene’s Health
Harrison Okene had to overcome a number of obstacles after being miraculously rescued from the sunken ship. The combination of water and pressure eventually caused his skin to peel. He also had reoccurring nightmares, which served as a constant reminder of the terrifying ordeal. In addition to all of these challenges, Okene also had an incessant hunger, most likely as a result of the mental and emotional strain he was under.
Nevertheless, Okene was extremely lucky to be in generally excellent health despite these residual consequences, taking into consideration the remarkable conditions he had been exposed to at the bottom of the ocean.
Alex Gibbs, looking back on the miraculous rescue of Harrison Okene from a distance of nine years, admits that he has never experienced anything like it in his professional life. The transfer of Okene into a diving bell was an unprecedented event for Gibbs, highlighting the exceptional circumstances surrounding the rescue. Gibbs emphasizes the incredible chain of events that happened to align in a way that allowed Okene to survive.
The discovery of an air pocket, his ability to last for nearly three days, and the fortuitous presence of a deep-sea diving boat in the vicinity all define Okene's rescue.
Someone Looked After Him
One of the members of the rescue squad expressed astonishment, saying, "I'd say someone was looking after him." The awe and gratitude expressed by the team were rooted in the remarkable circumstances surrounding Harrison Okene's survival. The presence of a benevolent force, whether seen as luck, fate, or divine intervention, was acknowledged as a guiding hand that ensured Okene's protection and ultimate rescue from the depths of the ocean.
The inexplicable nature of his survival touched the hearts of those involved, reinforcing a sense of wonder and gratitude for the unseen forces that watched over Okene during his extraordinary journey.
One of Jascon-4’s Crew Members Was Never Found
During the rescue operation conducted by divers, ten bodies of the ship's crew members were successfully recovered from the sunken Jascon-4. However, despite their exhaustive efforts, the body of the 11th crew member could not be located or retrieved. This outcome cast a somber shadow over the rescue mission, leaving a profound sense of loss and unfulfilled closure for the family and friends of the missing crew member.
The inability to find the 11th body served as a reminder of the unpredictable and unforgiving nature of the sea, leaving a lingering sense of loss and unanswered questions surrounding the tragic incident.
Harrison Okene's Life After the Tragedy
Harrison Okene's resilience and determination were highlighted by the hardships he had endured. Against his better judgment, Okene decided to overcome his phobia and train to become a commercial diver in 2015. It was incredible how quickly he reversed his position on ocean travel. An important part of his trip was completed when the rescue diver who had found him trapped at the bottom of the ocean also presented him with his certificate.
Not only did this act of remembrance honor Okene's remarkable survival, but it also reflected the strength of his character and demonstrated his resilience in the face of adversity.
Unexpected Love for Diving
Okene finds great enjoyment in diving; it has become a way of life for him and brings him immense joy. The ocean is his "world," a place of great peace and calm. He genuinely cherishes being in that environment, finding solace and fulfillment amidst the depths of the sea. "I find great enjoyment in diving; it has become a way of life for me, and it brings me immense joy," Okene shared.
The way in which Okene expressed his happiness was straightforward yet profound: "I like being in the environment." These lines capture the great connection that he has with the world of diving.
Harrison Okene's Survival Story
Harrison Okene's survival story captivated media outlets worldwide, and his incredible ordeal and subsequent rescue received extensive coverage. The media was particularly drawn to the harrowing details of his experience and the remarkable display of resilience and fortitude he demonstrated in the face of extreme adversity. The fact that he managed to stay alive in complete darkness, in frigid temperatures, and with limited resources showcased his exceptional courage and determination.
Thrilling accounts of perseverance, like Okene's, have broad appeal. Such tales have the ability to capture and inspire listeners, prompting them to draw upon their own inner reserves of strength.
On May 23, we celebrated 10 years since Harrison Okene's miraculous survival. Harrison Okene's incredible story is a testament to the indomitable human spirit. His harrowing attempt to survive three days in the depths of the ocean demonstrates the power of resilience and triumph over adversity. Okene's unwavering determination, coupled with the relentless efforts of the rescue team, serves as an enduring source of inspiration and fascination around the world.
This significant milestone serves as a poignant reminder of the boundless power of hope and the extraordinary strength that resides within every human being, even in the face of unimaginable challenges.