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Man survives three days at bottom of sea

Entombed at the bottom of the Atlantic in an upended tugboat for three days, Harrison Odjegba Okene begged God for a miracle.

The Nigerian cook survived by breathing an ever-dwindling supply of oxygen in an air pocket. A video of Mr Okene's rescue in May – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ArWGILmKCqE – that was posted on the internet more than six months later has gone viral this week.

As the temperature dropped to freezing, Mr Okene, dressed only in boxer shorts, recited the last psalm his wife had sent him by text, sometimes called the Prayer for Deliverance: "Oh God, by your name, save me . . . The Lord sustains my life."

To this day, Mr Okene believes his rescue after 72 hours underwater at a depth of 30 metres (about 100ft) is a sign of divine deliverance. The other 11 seamen aboard the Jascon 4 died.

Divers sent to the scene were looking only for bodies, according to Tony Walker, project manager for the Dutch company DCN Diving.

The divers, who were working on a neighbouring oilfield 120km away when they were deployed, had already pulled up four bodies.


Harrison Odjegba Okene looking in awe as a rescue diving team make their way into the air pocket.

Harrison Odjegba Okene looking in awe as a rescue diving team make their way into the air pocket.

Harrison Odjegba Okene looking in awe as a rescue diving team make their way into the air pocket.

So when a hand appeared on the television screen that Mr Walker was monitoring in the rescue boat, showing what the diver in the Jascon saw, everybody assumed it was another corpse.

"The diver acknowledged that he had seen the hand and then, when he went to grab the hand, the hand grabbed him," he said in an interview yesterday.

"It was frightening for everybody," he said. "For the guy that was trapped because he didn't know what was happening; it was a shock for the diver while he was down there looking for bodies; and we (in the control room) shot back when the hand grabbed him on the screen."

On the video, there is an exclamation of fear and shock from Mr Okene's rescuer – then joy. Mr Okene recalls hearing: "There's a survivor! He's alive."

Mr Walker said Mr Okene couldn't have lasted much longer. "He was incredibly lucky he was in an air pocket but he would have had a limited time . . . he wouldn't be able to breathe any more."

Mr Okene's ordeal began at about 4.30am on May 26. Always an early riser, he was in the toilet when the tug, one of three towing an oil tanker in Nigeria's oil-rich Delta waters, gave a sudden lurch and then keeled over.

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"I was dazed and everywhere was dark as I was thrown from one end of the small cubicle to another," Mr Okene said in an interview with Nigeria's 'Nation' newspaper after his rescue.

He groped his way out of the toilet and tried to find a vent, propping doors open as he moved on. He discovered some tools and a life vest with two flashlights, which he stuffed into his shorts.

When he found a cabin of the sunken vessel that felt safe, he began the long wait, getting colder and colder as he played back a mental tape of his life. He survived on just one bottle of Coke.

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