December 3, 2013

Nigerian Boat Capsizes, Cook Survives 3 Days in Air Pocket

A man survives underwater, for nearly 3 days, with nothing more than a pocket of air and a bottle of Coke.

29 year-old Ship’s Cook Okene was on board the Jascon-4 tugboat when it was slammed and sunk by heavy Atlantic swells 20 miles from the coast of Nigeria. The ship settled at about 100’ below the surface and almost immediately became an underwater tomb for all but one of the 12 man crew.

Watching the video released by the DCN Diving will disturb you, as the gruesome appearance of a human hand appears in the murky waters. What perhaps will keep you up at night is to watch the hand twitch and then grab the diver.

“He’s alive!” the diver shouts, in a Donald Duck-like voice, back to the control center he’s been communicating with by way of a tethered radio.

How is this possible and why does his voice sound like Donald Duck?

The survivor is trapped in an air pocket that is roughly 100’ deep. At this depth everything is compressed, to include the air surrounding the vocal cords. This pressure makes voices sound duck-like. I can’t imagine what Okene must have thought was happening to his mind as he heard his own voice under such compression.

Rebreathers & How He Survived

Special Operations forces use what are called rebreathers. Compressed oxygen that is circulated  back to the diver. This is basically the same principle that kept this man alive.

When we breathe in air we are taking in about 20% oxygen and using only about 5% of it. This means that every breath we take leaves oxygen to spare. This is why CPR works.

Okene was basically rebreathing the unused oxygen that his body wasn’t using. In a single day a human will use up about 550 liters of the life-sustaining “O2.” Since he was 100’ underwater the space he was in had compressed air. It was basically an extremely large scuba tank that contained just enough oxygen.

How did he make it that long? It’s all about the attitude!

Scientifically speaking there was obviously enough compressed oxygen in the space to support his biological requirements for survival, but there couldn’t have been much to spare. His ability to keep calm kept him from burning through his limited oxygen supply. It was literally all about attitude.

The gentlemen stated that he constantly recited a Psalm given to him by his wife to stay calm. Human beings have an incredible ability to control their mental and physical state when properly motivated. Singing songs and reciting memorized poems or bible verses can significantly alter our mindset in a very mechanical way. You can sort of “Fake it until you make it” if you know what to do.

Clearly this man’s faith drove him to the very action that would keep him alive. I’m calling it “Dive Medicine” and mental management, but I think this man would say it was more like “Devine Medicine” and faith. No arguments from me as there is really no way to separate the two.

Getting Out and Decompressing – Getting Saved and Still Being Dead

When Okene was saved from the sunken ship he was still at risk. If he were to have just freed himself and swam to the surface there would have been a very good chance of him dying from decompression sickness after he surfaced.

When you’re at depth for long periods of time the air that we breath gets absorbed into your bloodstream. Get enough of it jammed in there by the pressure, and come up too fast, and you’ll end up with deadly bubbles in your blood.

Take a plastic bottle of Coke and slowly release the pressure by cracking the cap. You’ll notice bubbles begin to appear as the pressure releases. They had been absorbed into the liquid, but the rapid release of pressure turned them back to bubbles before they could be reabsorbed. Open the same bottle very slowly and you’ll find there are little to no bubbles. Same thing happens in your body when you surface.

You’ve Got to Have Faith

When someone is trapped there is little one can do, besides waiting, to affect their situation.

This wasn’t the case for Okene. His faith gave him the ability to remain calm, which allowed him to preserve his limited oxygen supply. Or his faith allowed him to survive without enough oxygen. Remember… trapped for 3 days underwater. Either way you look at it, it was faith that saved him!

I know we have some seriously technical readers here at SOFREP with a lot of amazing backgrounds. What are some other details, technical or otherwise, that you think went into this amazing story?


(Featured Image Courtesy: DCN Diving)

About the Author

Eric Davis is the host of Loadout Room., author at SOFREP. featured writer at and founder of the human performance company Average Frog. Eric works to repurpose and leverage the proven performance and leadership principles he learned from the SEAL Teams in everyday life. He's currently finishing his first book on "Prepping For Adventure". A book of preparedness, survival and adventure. Follow Eric on twitter at @EricDavis215 and keep up with all of his work by hitting "Like" on his personal facebook page..

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  • LawyerHandle

    BTW- this quote from the NatGeo article below should make the author smile: Regardless of the science, Hexdall said Okene was lucky to have survived his ordeal: "I don't know what it was—it was divine providence."

  • LawyerHandle

    Interesting related read from NatGeo:

  • YankeePapa

    . "...the limits of our physiology are far from solved..."  Program that I was watching last night.  Canadian mountain climber.  Climbs highest peaks without oxygen and faster than others.  Tests showed that he was at high levels far beyond other climbers... and even when his levels at last dropped some... kept going and brain functions still good...  Some Sherpas have higher than normal... one holds a record for number of ascents on Everest...   . ...POW in the Philippines... was Yank in WWI.  Civilian prisoner of the Japanese in WWII.  He retained his health, though thin... and was very fit.  Died a few years ago... hope that they took a gene sample before he passed... YP

  • JohnChristopher1

    [email protected] JohnChristopher1 "I couldn't imagine how freaked the diver must have been."  The diver's first text to his wife: "Ek het ’n fucken awesome dag gehad."  "Ship searches for bodies can't be mentally easy."  They're not all that bad (although finding one with a 20" bite mark is a bit disconcerting).  "So have you come up with any new possibilities?"  Not much. The math is pretty straight forward; and, as free divers will attest, the limits of our physiology are far from solved. FYI, The Biology of Human Survival by Claude Piantadosi is an interesting read.  "He is working on his first book, with former Navy SEAL Brandon Webb, about applying Special Operations lessons learned to parenting."  My wife's father ('Nam-era SEAL) drown-proofed his kids at around 5.  Also, among the books you might find interesting re your project, are:; Peter Gray's Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life; Play by Stuart Brown; Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes, and Make-Believe Violence; The Ambiguity of Play; NutureShock; Free-Range Kids (book and website); No Fear: Growing Up in a Risk-Averse Society; Why Don't Students Like School?" by cognitive scientist Daniel T. Willingham; 50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do). Plus, there's the tinkering school: Available upon request and promises of cool swag.

  • YankeePapa

    templar 6 . By Honolulu Advertiser At first, everyone thought it was a piece of loose rigging slapping against the wrecked hull of the USS West Virginia. Bang. Bang. To the survivors on land, it was just another noise amid the carnage of Pearl Harbor a day after the Dec. 7, 1941, attack. Like the sound of fireboats squirting water on the USS Arizona. Or the hammers chipping into the overturned hull of the Oklahoma. But they realized the grim truth the next morning, in the quiet dawn. Someone was still alive, trapped deep in the forward hull of the sunken battleship. Bang. Bang. The Marines standing guard covered their ears. There was nothing anyone could do. When salvage crews raised the West Virginia six months later, they found the bodies of three men huddled in an airtight storeroom: Ronald Endicott, 18; Clifford Olds, 20; and Louis "Buddy" Costin, 21. But the most haunting discovery was the calendar. Sixteen days had been crossed off in red pencil. The young sailors had marked their time, not knowing what had happened to their ship or that their country was at war. For 54 years, their story has been told in hushed tones among the West Virginia's survivors. It has become a symbol of courage and perseverance for these aging men. Few people knew the whole truth. The Navy never told the families how long their loved ones had survived. And for those brothers and sisters who eventually found out, the truth was so devastating they kept it a secret. Even from their own parents. Read the entire story here: YP