May 30, 2024 | Jamie Hayes

Surviving Three Days Trapped At The Bottom Of The Ocean

Trapped In The Dark

Harrison Okene was on the toilet, deep inside the tugboat Jascon-4 when the wave hit. Suddenly, the ceiling became the floor. The toilet fell and hit Okene in the head—then the power went out and everything went black. 

He wouldn't see light again for 60 agonizing hours.


The Jascon-4

The AHT Jascon-4 was a tugboat contracted to Chevron. It was "performing towing operations" 30 km off the coast of Nigeria's oil-producing Delta State on May 26, 2013 when what Chevron describes as a "sudden ocean swell" capsized the vessel.

Offshore transport tanker shipimpromptuwitz, Shutterstock

Harrison Okene

Harrison Okene, the ship's cook, was just 29 years old when the Jacson-4 capsized. Nothing could have prepared him for what he was going to endure over the next two days.

Harrison OkeneBukola Anney, How I survived 3 days under the Ocean (Harrison Okene's Testimony)

He Loves The Water

Okene always dreamed of a life on the ocean. He loved the water before his ordeal, which is why he signed up for the crew to begin with. But soon, the ocean would be haunting his nightmares.

OceanSebastian Voortman, Pexels

Three Days From Leave

That morning, Okene was scheduled to go on leave in three days. He hadn't even gotten dressed to start his day when he took a trip to the loo that lasted much longer than he planned.

Harrison OkeneBukola Anney, How I survived 3 days under the Ocean (Harrison Okene's Testimony)

Sinking Fast

After the wave hit, the Jascon-4 rolled over and immediately began sinking. Okene later recalled that it only took one or two minutes before he felt the ship come to rest on the ocean floor.

Ship sinkingRedCoat10, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Trapped And Injured

With blood pouring from the wound left by the falling toilet, Okene struggled to open the door to the bathroom he was in. He finally did get it open—but it didn't solve any of his problems.

toilet direction signRidwan Nugraha, Pexels

He Wasn't Alone

Okene got the door open and he found three of his crewmates on the other side. They were struggling with a hatch as the water level quickly rose.

ship sinkingMinisterie van Defensie, Wikimedia Commons

They Were Swept Away

As Okene's crewmates struggled, water roared into the corridor. He watched as the three of them were swept away, one by one. Knowing in his gut that they were goners, Okene made an unthinkable decision.

Titanic sinkingParamount, Titanic (1997)

He Went Deeper In

Thinking fast, Okene fought every instinct imaginable and turned to go deeper into bowels the ship.

Harrison OkeneBukola Anney, How I survived 3 days under the Ocean (Harrison Okene's Testimony)

He Knew His Ship

Okene knew that his crew kept the airtight hatches to most cabins shut at all times, due to the threat of pirates. That gave him an idea.

Harrison OkeneBukola Anney, How I survived 3 days under the Ocean (Harrison Okene's Testimony)

His Only Chance

As Okene swam away from the exit, the rushing water quickly swept him along. Soon, he found himself in another bathroom, just as the water forced the door shut behind him.

Harrison OkeneBukola Anney, How I survived 3 days under the Ocean (Harrison Okene's Testimony)

He Wasn't Alone

Many of Okene's crewmates were still trapped in the ship. He remembered hearing "so many shout, shout, shouts...calling and crying".

Harrison OkeneBukola Anney, How I survived 3 days under the Ocean (Harrison Okene's Testimony)

He Wanted Out

Okene still hoped he would be able to find his way out of the ship—but the force of the water on the door to the bathroom was too great. He broke the handle trying to get it open.

Harrison OkeneBukola Anney, How I survived 3 days under the Ocean (Harrison Okene's Testimony)

He Didn't Panic

This is the point when most people would despair. Okene told himself to remain calm. From that point, for the next 60 hours, he would remain in a state of hyper-composure. It was the only thing that would keep him alive.

Harrison OkeneBukola Anney, How I survived 3 days under the Ocean (Harrison Okene's Testimony)

He Was In Charge

Telling himself he was in charge of the situation, Okene took a moment to think. Always a practical man, Okene spotted a metal vent and had another idea.

IdeaAlones, Shutterstock

He Got Himself Out

Okene managed to break off the steel vent to use as a lever to pry the door open. It wasn't easy work—especially accompanied by haunting sounds.

DoorDanielle Rice, Unsplash

His Crewmates Were Stuck Too

As Okene worked on getting the grate and opening the door, he could still hear the shouts of the other crew members echoing through the ship.

ShipwreckOkinawa Diving School World Diving, Pexels

It Fell Silent

Okene's quick thinking with the vent got him out of that bathroom—but by the time he got the hatch open, the shouts of his crew had fallen silent. In the moment, Okene told himself they must have escaped.

Amakasu Maru No.1NOAA Ocean Explorer, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

The First Sign Of Hope

Gathering himself a bit, Okene made for the airtight hatch his crewmates had been struggling with before—but it didn't look good.

Navy Diver Assigned To The Salvage Ship Uss SalvorJon Sommers, Wikimedia Commons

It Didn't Look Good

Aside from the air pocket he'd found in the second engineer's cabin, the rest of the ship had completely flooded. He only had that one small bubble of air to keep him alive.

Harrison OkeneBukola Anney, How I survived 3 days under the Ocean (Harrison Okene's Testimony)

He Didn't Have Much Time

The watertight hatch that led out was still stuck—and by now completely submerged. Okene could only work on it for so long before he had to head back to his air pocket to breathe.

man underwaterJulia Foroni, Pexels

He Nearly Didn't Make It

Okene almost lost his fight for survival in the first moments. The first time he dove to check on the door, he got lost while trying to make it back to the air pocket.

Ship,  doorSami Aksu, Pexels

He Was In A Maze

The route between the hatch and the pocket was full of doors—the engine room, mess room, chiller, cabins. It was a maze—but it was even worse than that.

ship doorKevin Borrill, Unsplash

He Couldn't Think Straight

The ship was upside down, underwater, and pitch black. It would be hard to navigate under perfect conditions, but the stress and lack of oxygen made it far worse. 

A single wrong turn, and Okene might not make it back to the air pocket.

ShipwreckPascal Ingelrest, Pexels

He Found Food

The hatch wasn't opening, so Okene focused on what he could. Searching through his surroundings, he managed to scrounge up a tin of sardines and a can of cola for food.

sardinesKaren Laårk Boshoff, Pexels

He Found Clothing

Okene also managed to find a set of coveralls—he was still in his boxers. But he wasn't going to put the coveralls on. He had a better idea.

OverallsLynn Greyling, Needpix

He Made His Own Rope

Okene methodically cut the coveralls into strips, tying them end to end until he had a long piece of rope. He then tied the rope to the door at the entrance to the cabin.

RopeEngin Akyurt, Pexels

He Made Sure He Knew The Way

Since getting lost could be the end, Okene used the rope to guide him as a guide between the air pocket and the hatch, buying him extra time. Genius.

Harrison OkeneBukola Anney, How I survived 3 days under the Ocean (Harrison Okene's Testimony)

He Was Freezing

Okene had more problems he had to deal with. The waters of the Atlantic are freezing, and he wouldn't survive long if he stayed submerged.

AtlanticAustin Sullivan, Pexels

He Built A Raft

Ripping the wooden panels out of the ceiling, Okene fashioned a raft just big enough to haul himself up on to. From his cramped little perch, he could retain some heat and plan his next move.

RaftAdamantios, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

All He Could Do Was Wait

After a few attempts, Okene had to admit that he was not going to get the hatch open. Trying any more would just waste precious oxygen. All he could do was sit, wait, and pray.

prayingDoidam 10, Shutterstock

He Quickly Ran Out Of Food

The can of sardines and the cola did not last him long. The hunger quickly set in, but far worse was the thirst—made so much more painful by all the saltwater he'd ingested.

coca colaJeanson Wong, Unsplash

He Lost Sense Of Place And Time

Sitting there in the darkness, Okene says that time started to lose meaning. He sat there in total darkness. But this wasn't sensory deprivation. It was so much worse—because there were still the sounds.

dark underwaterMedia Whale Stock, Shutterstock

He Wasn't Alone

Sea creatures soon started infiltrating the ship. They tore at Okene's skin when he left a limb in the water for too long. But he wasn't their only meal.

shipwreck fishAndrii Slonchak, Shutterstock

His Crewmates Never Got Out

Okene couldn't see in the darkness, but he could sense the bodies of his crewmates nearby—and he could hear the fish nibbling away at them: "It was horror".

Scared - Yuri A, Shutterstock

He Was In Terrible Pain

Harrison's throat burned from all the salt water he'd swallowed. It made the skin of his tongue peel away. His extremities weren't faring much better. But all he could do was endure it.

underwater manChic Bee, Flickr

The Water Kept Rising

Okene kept himself calm, but he couldn't deny the fact that the water was rising. He sat there and waited for the water to fill the room completely.

water, Shutterstock

He Thought Of His Family

Trapped on his raft, Okene thought of his wife and mother. In the total darkness, his memories flashed before his eyes, thoughts and moments from his life.

Harrison OkeneBukola Anney, How I survived 3 days under the Ocean (Harrison Okene's Testimony)

Church Songs Kept Him Company

Okene sang church songs over and over in his head to help him pass the time. And he wasn't hanging on for nothing.

church songscottonbro studio, Pexels

He Kept The Fear At Bay

The entire time he was waiting, Okene knew that a panicked brain used more oxygen, so he simply remained calm and bought himself as much time as possible. Long enough to hear a new sound in the darkness.

Harrison OkeneBukola Anney, How I survived 3 days under the Ocean (Harrison Okene's Testimony)

He Heard Something

Okene suddenly heard what sounded like a hammer banging on the hull. It was faint, but it was there. If it was a person, he was going to make sure they knew he was there.

Florida keys diving at shipwreckBrent Hilliard, Shutterstock

He Made As Much Noise As Possible

Swimming down towards the source of the noise, Okene started banging as hard as he could on the side of the ship with a water filter. 

man swimming underwaterpaul prescott, Shutterstock

He Saw A Light

Okene had no idea how long he'd been in darkness when he saw the faintest reflection of a light appear beneath him.

Diver with flashlightKONSTANTIN_SHISHKIN, Shutterstock

He Swam To The Light

Taking a deep breath, Okene mustered what strength he had and dove down towards the light. But it was still too faint in the darkness. He had to resurface into his bubble to take one last deep breath and try again.

Diver holding two flashlightsphmarcosborsatto, Shutterstock

They Found Him

The rescue divers who found Okene were wearing cameras on their helmet. In the footage, you can see Okene's palm appear out of the darkness. The diver radios that he has found another body—then the hand reaches out and grabs him.

Harrison OkeneBukola Anney, How I survived 3 days under the Ocean (Harrison Okene's Testimony)

He Was Shocked

In that moment, Okene wasn't exactly worried about surprising his rescuer. In an interview, he says the man "shivered with fear" when he reached out. 

If you thought a body reached and grabbed you, 30m under water, you'd jump too!

Harrison OkeneBukola Anney, How I survived 3 days under the Ocean (Harrison Okene's Testimony)

He Shouldn't Have Been Able To Survive

The bubble of air that Okene survived in should have filled with a toxic level of carbon dioxide within just a couple hours. So how did he survive for 60?

liquid carbon dioxideOregon State University, Flickr

Physics Saved Him

The cold water was painful, but it may have been what saved his life. Okene was breathing out carbon dioxide, but cold water actually absorbs carbon dioxide quite well, pulling it out of the air around him. He had something else going for him too.

Cold waterHilary Halliwell, Pexels

His Bubble Had A Secret Weapon

There's one other factor that gave Okene a chance to survive. Since he was near the bottom of the ocean, the air in the bubble was four times as dense as it would have been at the surface. That's a big difference.

bottom of the oceanUnknown Author, PxHere

He Had A Little Extra Time

Four times the pressure in the air pocket means four times as much oxygen. Between the ocean slowly diffusing carbon dioxide he was exhaling and the increased air pressure, Okene was given just enough time to survive until his rescue. But the pressure caused its own problems.

Harrison OkeneBukola Anney, How I survived 3 days under the Ocean (Harrison Okene's Testimony)

His Blood Was Toxic

Recreational divers usually wouldn't spend more than 20 minutes at that depth. Okene had been there nearly three days, and in that time his blood had absorbed potentially fatal amounts of nitrogen.

Diver in waterMaël BALLAND, Pexels

It Wasn't Over Yet

Okene had been through unimaginable stress, and he had been trapped at pressure for nearly 60 hours. The dive team had to be extremely careful with what they did next.

diving teamRich Carey, Shutterstock

They Took It Slow

The rescue team outfitted Okene with dive equipment and slowly led him to a dive bell. From there, they slowly raised him to the surface—but he still wasn't out of the woods.

Harrison OkeneBukola Anney, How I survived 3 days under the Ocean (Harrison Okene's Testimony)

He Was Still Trapped For Three Days

He wanted to go home, but Okene had to go straight into a decompression chamber for three days upon reaching the surface, to allow his body to slowly reacclimate to atmospheric pressure.

Decompression ChamberMike, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

He Had No Clue How Long It Had Been

Okene couldn't believe it when they told him that he'd been trapped for nearly three days. He didn't even think a single night had passed.

Harrison OkeneBukola Anney, How I survived 3 days under the Ocean (Harrison Okene's Testimony)

He Was The Only Survivor

One of the first things Okene did upon being rescued is ask about his crew mates. He had spent all that time in the darkness hoping they might have gotten out—but he was the only survivor.

Harrison OkeneBukola Anney, How I survived 3 days under the Ocean (Harrison Okene's Testimony)

He Was...Perfectly Fine

After completing decompression, medics were shocked to discover that Okene was in almost perfectly normal health aside from his raw skin.

Shocked doctor is looking at, Shutterstock

He Didn't Go To The Hospital

Despite pleas to seek further medical attention, once Okene was finished in the pressure chamber, he went straight home to be with his family. But it would be a long time before he could put the experience behind him.

Entrance to emergency roomRob Hainer, Shutterstock

He Suffered Nightmares

For weeks after his rescue, Okene suffered nightmares. He would feel like the bed was sinking, like he was trapped in his bedroom with his wife with the water rising. And it wasn't like the daytime let him forget about it.

African American Man waking up from a nightmareProstock-studio, Shutterstock

The Media Hounded Him

Okene's incredible story attracted an incredible amount of media attention—for Okene, too much. Every day journalists and paparazzi would hound him at his door. 

a detective or a paparazzinito, Shutterstock

He Didn't Think He'd Return To The Sea

As the nightmares haunted at night, Okene thought he would maybe never return to the sea again. But he had always loved the ocean, and it would come back to him before long.

OceanKellie Churchman, Pexels

He Went Under Again

About a year after the ordeal, Okene was driving with a friend when his car went off a bridge and into the water. But this time, Okene knew he could handle himself.

Car  sinkingGagliardiPhotography, Shutterstock

He Went Back For His Friend

Okene not only got himself out of the car, he went back for his friend when he realized he was stuck. Then, he actually went down again to tie a rope to haul the car out.

getting car out of waterARM Photo Video, Shutterstock

He Got A New Start

The years after the accident weren't easy on Okene. He and his wife separated, and he grew depressed. But there was one thing he knew he was good at.

depressed manRohane Hamilton, Shutterstock

He Went Back Under

Harrison Okene survived on a makeshift raft for nearly 60 hours near the bottom of the sea at depths that by all rights should have killed him. So why not play to his strengths?

Underwater image of seaBlaque X, Pexels

He Became A Diver

Despite protests from his family, Okene faced his past, and today he works as a professional diver, installing and repairing underwater oil rig facilities.

Diver divingPia B, Pexels

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6



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