100 Meters Down
The sunlit world was above him. His willpower was gone and his thoughts were already clouded. Fear took over as he was trapped inside a claustrophobic room that only had a tiny air space to breath. He was 100 meters deep below the ocean waters and he already lost count of days. He wanted to cry but he doesn’t have the energy anymore. He was cold, hungry, and terrified. His hope started to sink until he saw a torch of light pass through inside his upside-down vessel.
It was 5:00 AM when Harrison Odjegba Okene was woken up from his deep slumber. He felt his bladder was full so he got up from his bed and rushed to the vessel’s bathroom wearing only his boxers. Harrison was the cook in a tugboat that was towing a large ship tanker in the Gulf of Guinea on the 26th of May 2013. And he never thought that his little bathroom trip would save his dear life.
Half-awake, Harrison sat on the toilet bowl lazily. He was taking his precious time when a couple of minutes later, he felt the whole boat tremble. Harrison thought that it was just a mere wave until his eyes tracked down to the water—it was leaking inside the bathroom door. His breathing hitched. Suddenly, a roaring impact of steel rang through his ears. Next thing he knew, the gravity went sideways and Harrison was violently shoved against the hard bathroom door.
Their tugboat was caught by a gigantic rogue wave. His crew members immediately got up but there was a problem. Because of their protocols to lock up their rooms in case of pirate invasion, it took a long time for the crew to find their keys. And when they opened their rooms, the boat was already flooded. But Harrison had a different situation.
He was lucky that he was already outside his room. Harrison used all his might to swing the bathroom open against the water pressure. Meanwhile, some of his colleagues were already trying to escape from the emergency hatch. By the time he was outside the bathroom, his eyes widened in horror as he witnessed his colleagues get swept out from the emergency hatch and thrown out into the raging sea. Before he could struggle, another current struck.
Sinking into Depth
Harrison was helplessly drifted across the other bathroom. He felt his stomach nauseated as everything from the room went upside down. The water started filling in more. Pain struck from every corner of his body when he bounced from one solid wall to another. He was petrified. Their boat sank in blistering speed down to 100 meters. Fortunately, Harrison was able to grab onto something.
He grasped on the water basin to keep his head afloat in the remaining air space of the bathroom. The electricity of their boat flicked off until he was left in pitch darkness. Harrison froze. His heart was beating so loud that he couldn’t think straight. Realization crept with his fear. He was alone submerged in the middle of nowhere. For a couple of hours, Harrison held on the basin for his dear life until he heard a loud bang from the seafloor.
The sound was from a buoy dropped by the rescue operation boat. Harrison hammered back on the bathroom wall in desperation. A group of divers examined the situation of the sunken boat. However, they couldn’t dive deeper due to limited time. They presumed that there were no survivors anymore. Therefore, they called off the rescue operation leaving Harrison trapped 100 meters deep.
Gambling His Air
Harrison couldn’t felt his legs anymore. He didn’t know that he was underwater for almost a day now. It felt like he was floating in a void. He had to do something before his energy ran out. So he took the risk of leaving his tiny air space and gambled underneath the dark waters.
New Found Space
Swimming through the pitch darkness, he found the engineer’s office. Miraculously, the room had an air space too and it was larger than the bathroom. However, the real ordeal started to rise. Harrison felt his blood flush away from his limbs. He shivered. Coldness started to set in…
The surface water in East Atlantic was actually warm and pleasant, but Harrison was in the part of the ocean where the sun never reached. Currents of freezing water started piercing through his skin. His eyelids became heavy as a strong sleepiness settled in. This made it even harder for him to move his body.
He was on the verge of hypothermia when the heat of his body started dropping. With his remaining energy, he explored the room and blindly extended his hand in the hopes to grab an item that was floating in the water. Luckily, he found tools that helped him remove some wall panels. With a floating mattress and his stripped panels, Harrison made a platform that allowed him to keep even just half of his body afloat. He reduced his heat loss for now. But being trapped in the dark space for almost two days had become more agonizing.
His mind started playing tricks on him. Anxiety crawled on his whole existence as every creak, banging, and the sound of fish splashing terrified him. Horrifying visions flashed before his eyes as he imagined the fish nibbling the corpses. Harrison even smelled a rotten odor that he believed came from the decomposing bodies. His urge to breathe was excruciating. It felt like his chest was going to explode soon. “No.” he shook his head. He shouldn’t let his odd thoughts take over him. So Harrison closed his eyes and silently prayed. He didn’t know that help was coming his way.
On the ocean’s surface, a bigger vessel arrived. It brought Nico Van Heerden, Andre Erasmus, and Darryl Oosthuizen—a team of professional divers along with their supervisor, Colby Werrett. They were tasked to retrieve the bodies inside the sunken boat. But they knew it wasn’t easy. Because the boat crashed on a soft mud seabed. Its waters were murky which creates poor visibility on the vessel. However, deep in the murky waters, they would discover something that was beyond their expectations.
The team plunged 100 feet deep. Colby tapped his foot as he watched in anticipation from his screen. A camera was attached to Nico and they were connected via microphone so Colby could direct them while they were diving inside. But the divers spent an hour just by breaking the boat’s steel door. When they swam inside, it was even duskier and disorienting. Everything was upside down and there were lots of hazard scraps scattered. Unfortunately, there was an even more disturbing scene that awaited them.
He was starting to lose hope, it has been around 60 hours already since he was trapped underwater. Severely dehydrated and on the verge of collapsing due to hunger. He knew his rescuers were going to come anytime soon but will he make it by then? Conflicted on what he should do to survive, Okene remains in his spot, desperately trying to stay alive. But a loud noise suddenly changed his perspective.
The divers were sure of it, everyone on the ship was already dead. It has been several days already since the ship sunk and they thought that no one could have possibly survived that long underwater.
As they were swimming inside the ship, they’ve encountered several floating corpses. It was a sad sight to see, a ship that used to be full of life is now engulfed in darkness under the sea. The divers were about to call it a day and consider the mission finished since they weren’t able to find any signs of survivors, but to their surprise, a hand reached out to grab them…
Okene listened attentively, he heard a loud familiar noise. It was the sound of an anchor dropping. “Rescuers!,” Okene thought to himself. The sound was followed by a loud hammering to the hull of the boat. “This is my chance,” he whispered to himself.
Okene desperately knocked as loud as he could against the wall but unfortunately, the divers were unable to hear his pleas. He knew he couldn’t let this chance pass. If the divers were to leave without him, that was it for him. He saw the light from one of the diver’s head torches, Okene immediately tried swimming towards him but the diver was too fast. But Okene didn’t give up.
The divers were just finishing up surveying the area, feeling nauseous over the number of corpses they saw. As they were about to decide to leave, they notice an arm. Initially, they thought that the arm just belongs to one of the floating corpses. Nico, one of the divers, decided to grab the hand and to their surprise, the hand squeezed him back!
Colby, their supervisor who was observing them through their surveillance cameras, immediately yelled, “He’s alive! He’s alive!” He then prompted Nico to comfort the man and give him a friendly pat behind the back.
Both the divers and Okene rejoiced! It was a miracle for the divers to see a survivor. Recreational divers usually don’t stay for more than 20 minutes 130 feet under the sea (the maximum depth for recreational diving).
People were baffled over how Okene was able to survive that long underwater. Okene’s air pocket has been estimated to be compressed by a factor of four. Scientists estimate that Okene’s 216 cubic feet of air pocket would have been able to give him enough oxygen for not more than 2 and a half days but Okene was found 60 hours later!
What kept him alive
Okene managed to defy what seemed to have been impossible by consistently splashing the water. As a result, this increased the water’s surface area which will heighten the absorption of CO2. This decreased Okene’s chances of getting CO2 poisoning.
Although Okene seemed to be clear from CO2 poisoning, he was delirious and short of breath when his rescuers first found him.
Helping him out
The divers knew that Okene desperately needed medical attention. So to prevent him from feeling cold, they poured warm water all over him and put an oxygen mask over his face. While they tried to give Okene the proper medical attention he needed, the divers also coordinated with the medical team and diving experts on the surface to discuss the best way to safely get Okene back up the surface.
Getting Okene back up on the surface isn’t as simple as hoisting him up. By doing that, there’s a high-risk of Okene developing something experts call “the bends.”
Getting him back home
If they let Okene directly ascend above without any intervention, his body would face fatal consequences. Decompression sickness, also commonly referred to as “the bends” would cause Okene’s body to experience joint pain and worse, paralysis and neurological issues. Cardiac arrest is also highly likely.
To prevent this from happening, the team of divers and experts worked together to ensure that they get Okene back up safely. They devised a foolproof plan, they made sure to give Okene enough time to get used to breathing through the oxygen mask and then put him in a diving helmet and suit.
Working under pressure
The divers made sure that they remained calm despite the intense pressure they’re feeling in order to be a good example for Okene to follow. Okene did not disappoint, the team of divers were impressed by his calm demeanor and it made the situation a lot easier.
Getting him up the shore was a delicate process, they had to take Okene out of the ship carefully then lead him to a diving bell that would take him up the surface. It doesn’t end there, after Okene arrived at the surface, he had to stay inside a decompression chamber for 2 and a half days.
Events after the incident
Okene was severely disoriented and confused. He thought that he had only been trapped for around 12 hours but in reality, it had been more than 2 days! He was thankful that his rescuers did everything they can to keep him alive and safe but after finding out that his shipmates had died from the tragic incident, Okene can’t help but feel guilty.
“Did I even deserve to survive?” he asked himself. Fortunately, Okene didn’t develop any major injuries from the incident but it seems to have affected him emotionally and mentally. He went back to his hometown in Nigeria and went about his life normally. He didn’t go to any of his colleagues’ funerals in fear of the judgment that he would face from their families. Okene now currently works as a cook and promised himself that he would never return to the ocean again.