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Miracle man who refused to die makes pact with God

By News Express on 12/12/2013

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Harrison Odjegba Okene had survived three days in a small air pocket inside an overturned tugboat at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean before he was rescued at the last moment by a diver – but the lucky 29-year-old says he will not be tempting fate again.

In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, Okene described his miraculous rescue that was videotaped and which went viral after it was uploaded on the Internet this month.

The 29-year-old still has nightmares and vows to never return to the sea again. He has taken a new job as cook on firm ground instead.

Okene was the only survivor in a crew of 12 when the boat capsized in May. It still haunts him. In addition with being saddled with survivors’ guilt, some Nigerians believe he saved himself through black magic.

The Jascon 4 was resting on the seabed upside down at a depth of about 100 feet.

The plump cook survived on only one bottle of Coke. Two flashlights that he had found gave up after less than one day.

In the dark, he had almost given up hope after three days of praying to God for a miracle when he suddenly heard the sound of a boat, a hammering on the side of the vessel and then, after a while, saw lights and the rising waters around him bubbling.

He said he knew it had to be a diver, but he was on the wrong end of the cabin. Air bubbles rose around the cook as he squatted inside his air pocket. Rescue seemed imminent, but then the lights disappeared.

Desperate, Okene swam through pitch-dark waters in the sunken boat to grab the diver. Okene couldn’t find him and, with the air in his lungs giving out, he swam back to the cabin that held his precious, but dwindling, pocket of air.

“He came in but he was too fast, so I saw the light but before I could get to him, he was already out. I tried to follow him in the pitch darkness but I couldn’t trace him, so I went back,” he said.

His rescuers from the Dutch company DCN Diving were looking only for bodies and already had recovered four corpses when they came upon Okene.

When the diver returned, Okene had to swim again to reach him and still he did not see him, so he tapped the diver on the back of his neck, giving the man a scare.

When the diver saw his hand he said ‘corpse, corpse, a corpse,’ into his microphone, reporting up to the rescue vessel.

“When he brought his hand close to me, I pulled on his hand,” Okene said.

“He’s alive! He’s alive! He’s alive!” Okene remembers hearing.

Okene described a surreal scene after the diver emerged into the air pocket.

“I knew when he gave me water he was observing me [to see] if I’m really human, because he was afraid,” he told the AP last Thursday.

The diver first used hot water to warm him up, then attached him to an oxygen mask. Once saved from sunken boat, he was put into a decompression chamber for 60 hours before he could safely return to the surface.

Until his rescue, Okene believed his colleagues must have escaped. The tug was one of three towing a Chevron oil tanker in Nigeria’s oil-rich Delta waters, but on May 26 there was a sudden lurch and it keeled over.

“I heard people shouting, I felt the vessel going down, going down, I heard a voice saying ‘Is this vessel sinking or what?’ ”

Okene explained that he was in the bathroom when the tugboat capsized, sending the contents of the room falling on his head. From the outside, the cook could hear his colleagues’ desperate cries for help.

“My colleagues were shouting ‘God help me, God help me, God help me.’ Then after a while I never heard from them [again],” he recalled.

The 29-year-old man said that he had spent the first two days of his ordeal incessantly praying to God, but on the third day he stopped, accepting that death was inevitable.

When recounting the rescue at his local church, the pastor asked him if he had used black magic to survive.

“I was so surprised! How could a man of God be saying this?” Okene said, his voice rising in disbelief.

He didn’t go to the funerals of his colleagues because he feared their families’ reactions — Nigerians being generally very religious but also superstitious.

“I couldn’t go because I didn’t know what the family will say, thinking ‘Why is he the only one to survive,’ ” said Okene.

It’s a question that has shaken his steadfast faith.

“Every week I ask [God] ‘Why only me? Why did my colleagues have to die?’ ”

His wife Akpovona Okene, 27, said he still suffers nightmares seven months later.

“When he is sleeping, he has that shock, he will just wake up in the night saying ‘Honey see, the bed is sinking, we are in the sea,’ ” Mrs Okene said.

Okene said he made a pact with God when he was at the bottom of the ocean: “When I was under the water I told God: If you rescue me, I will never go back to the sea again, never.”

Okene, a 29-year-old ship’s cook, was the only known survivor from the boat of 12 men, which capsized on May 26, 20 miles off the coast of Nigeria.

A video of his rescue showed the moment Okene, who was left fighting to breathe inside a four-foot-high bubble of air, reached out a hand and touched one of the team of divers, letting them know he is still alive.

It had been feared – and assumed – that all aboard had perished.

Of the 11 others aboard the tugboat when it sank in rough seas 10 have been found dead. One remains missing.

Okene squeezed into a compartment after the boat sank and settled upside-down. Before closing the cabin door to stop the water coming in, he had seen three dead colleagues in the water.

Quick-thinking Okene took two mattresses from the beds and sat on top of them, hoping to stay afloat. He was brought to the surface after 62 hours.

“I was there in the water in total darkness just thinking it’s the end,” Mr Okene told Reuters at the time of his rescue.

Although he could not see anything he said: “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.”

After days soaking in the salt water parts of his skin began peeling away and he was gasping for water as he could not drink the seawater that he was trapped in.

South African divers came down to search for any survivors of the Jacson 4 on May 28 and they were stunned to find Mr Okene still alive.

Paul McDonald, a member of the rescue crew, said at the time: “All on board could not believe how cool he was when being rescued.

“The divers put a diving helmet and harness onto him. It was amazing to be part of this rescue.”

Kurt Glaubitz, a Chevron spokesman, said the boat overturned while towing a Chevron oil tanker in the Gulf of Guinea.

•Text courtesy Daily Mail. Photo shows Miracle man Harrison Odjegba Okene.

Source News Express

Posted 13/12/2013 12:33:43 AM

 

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