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.

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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)