Join Date: Nov 08 2005
Location: Hide Away On the Gulf
Rep Power: 41833
Missin Link crew rescue
This is the statement from the Mystic Viking, commerical dive vessel. We will make our statement as to the events that led up to this point soon. Please don't start asking questions at this time, we are blessed that they were close enough to us to assist and blessed that someone above was looking out for us.
The story from our side :-) Our area of the Gulf of Mexico
experienced a ferocious cold front at about 22:30. There were more than 50 knots of wind and 20 foot seas, so we had to abandon our job site and run into the weather as we were being beaten up by the seas. We were standing by running a weather pattern (just pointing the bow into very rough seas) at 01:15 when we heard a Coast Guard Plane reporting in the coordinates of a life raft with people in it. I had the 2nd Officer plot the position, which was only thirteen miles away while I radioed the plane and asked if the Coast Guard had dispatched any vessels to the scene. They said they had not, so I made the decision to head in the direction of the life raft. This was very risky because we were trying to keep the bow into the seas ourselves, as they were almost 20 feet, and this meant putting the beam to the sea to transit to the location.
I brought the vessel around slowly,and when we able to stabilize the vessel on the new course (quite rolly), I turned the helm back over to the 2nd officer, radioed the Coast Guard to inform them we were going to attempt rescue, and called the whole crew to the bridge. We came up with a plan to get the people back on board and started to make preparations. The Coast Guard plane at that time had to head
back to shore and refuel, leaving us on our own.
I resumed my position at the helm and did some rough calculations on where we expected the raft to drift in the rough seas. We continued to experience very intense squall lines that reduced viability to almost zero, which complicated things. When we were six miles from the life raft’s last known position, we put out en lookouts on the helo deck with radios and binoculars. Our ABs, dive crew, and off duty Senior DPO Ryan(who had just done 12 hours on shift) jumped at the chance to keep watch even though it was fairly dangerous to be out on an open deck while the seas were so rough. I brought the vessel to a crawl, and in less then half an hour on scene, the guys saw two strobes and heard shouting and a whistle. The coast guard had reported to us that that had seen one raft with a strobe and people in it, and they had dropped another raft with a strobe, so we though we had them. I brought the vessel along side the strobe, with Captain Ray now on the bridge to
advise me as needed, and started sliding the vessel in towards the light. As we closed in we picked up the strobe with our search light, and it was just one guy! He had a child’s life jacket on with a strobe over one arm and an epirb (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon), which had a strobe on it in the other hand. He was riding on an inflatable mattress as well!
Well one of our preparations had been hanging cargo nets over the side of the ship (my idea!) and I maneuvered the ship alongside the guy in the water. Our guys took the life rings (they had collected all we had on board and tied long ropes to them, great idea on their part) and tossed them out to the guy to grab on to. Eventually he got a hold of one of the rings and they hauled him to the net. He was not strong enough to climb the ladder himself, having been in the water for six hours, so we tried lowering the Billy Pew Personnel transfer basket into the water next to him with the crane and attempted to pick him up. That was nono good, it was so rough we like to beat him to death with that thing. Previously, we had talked about launching our rescue boat, but given the size of the seas we decided we were more likely to put more people in the water then get him out of the water. Thankfully, the guys on the desk came through again: they piled everyone on the net, had the guy hook his arms through, and hauled the whole lot over the side hand over hand! This guy
was my size and pure dead weight so you can imagine the effort it took, eight men hauling on it (and I think Roxanne our medic too!).
Once on board the man gave us the details, which were slim enough. Six other people had been on the boat and he thought at least some of them had gotten in the raft. This was not good news for me at all since the visibility level was so low. If they were not in a raft and without a life jacket with a strobe I couldrun them over at any moment! This and the fear that I would suck one or more ofthem into the propeller as I maneuvered along side were my biggest fears,
I was driving half blind. At this point we were still lacking aircraft
support, so I had to make a decision. Our guys thought they had heard voices off to starboard in the dark, so after consulting with Ray, we decided to make a pass in that direction. No joy what so ever so we took another pass back around. Our man we had on board was feeling better, though wiped out, his name was Obie Simmons. Obie could not hold on to the epirb when we pulled him onto the ship so that was still out there flashing away. I decided to make another pass by there just to double check the strobe we were seeing was the epirb that was left in the water.
Well the strobe was the same one so we were still without any idea of where the other two rafts were. I stopped us and let us drift for a few minutes to get a good idea on the direction of drift, and got underway in that direction, heading south south west. We steamed that way for an hour an a half then decided to turn around. Fortunately at this point we got our aircraft support back, we now had a helicopter on scene from New Orleans. We got a call from the USCG command center that they got another Epirb position hit off the beacon so we decided to
head back to that location. Likely the one we had just left but might as well go check, as we were likely to see the rafts on the way back as anywhere.
We got lucky then, the helo spotted the strobe on the raft and dropped a flare for us to guide us in. Three miles out and we headed straight over. The guys made the back deck ready again and I made the same approach. This time it was trickier and I was very happy to have Captain Ray by my side, I got us in position along side but the wind was so fierce it was taking 100% of available thrust to keep us up to the wind. Ray had the brilliant idea to cut all propulsion, and start spinning the ship towards the raft using the bow thrusters. The net result was a calm spot right in the middle of the ship where the raft was! After the trouble getting the guy on last time the dive supervisor had come up to ask for suggestions, I recommended the old school sailor method of a French bowline, two big loops at the end of a long line, one loop goes around the body under the armpits the other loop under the knees. They got AB Leo to show them how tie one, and when the raft came along they used
this method, used in combination with a team pulling them up, and the survivor themselves scrambling up the net to keep control, worked much better! Just a matter of minutes and we had all the survivors, and thankfully all six had been on the raft, we had recovered the entire crew of the sunk vessel!!!
Well Obie had been up on the bridge helping us lookout and telling us what had happened, and boy was he happy. His niece was one of the missing six. All six were ambulatory (able to walk) and in fact in very good condition, the captain was a bit dazed and had taken a blow the head when he was abandoning his boat. That boat had been the Missin Link a 70-foot dive vessel, apparently overwhelmed by the same front that had knocked us about some. Well the other six were about
as happy as can be, and very grateful for our help :-)
The Medic conferred with the Coast Guard flight surgeon over the phone and decided to take the banged up captain with them on the halo back to NewOrleans. The rest we fed, gave boots, took pictures with, and dropped off at a nearby platform for the CG to pick up a couple hours later.
The whole event went from 01:12 (when I made the course change) to 10:00 when we dropped them off.
Our whole crew did an amazing job getting no one hurt, and everyone is walking on air in the aftermath!!