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Harrison Okene: Nigerian cook who spent 60 hours underwater

In 2013, Harrison Okene made headlines across the world after surviving more than 60 hours at the bottom of the ocean by breathing through an air pocket.

The cook was working onboard a tugboat to stabilize an oil tanker at a platform in the Atlantic Ocean when it capsized in heavy seas 32km off the Nigerian coast.

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The ship eventually settled 30m down on the sea bed, upside down with everyone drowning, except Okene.

“It was around 5 am and I was on the toilet when the vessel just started going down, the speed was so, so fast,” Okene said later.

In pitch dark, he managed to grope his way from the toilet into another room, which had enough air to keep him alive.

At the room, Okene rigged a simple platform to keep his body partially above water and delay hypothermia.

“All around me was just black and noisy. I was crying and calling on Jesus to rescue me. I prayed so hard. I was so hungry and thirsty and cold and I was just praying to see some kind of light,” he said.

The cook was wearing his underpants, stuck in an air bubble a little more than a metre thick, alone, and partly immersed in cool water.

After almost two-and-a-half days, seemingly beyond help at the bottom of the ocean, Okene’s prayers were answered when he spotted a light.

A team of South African divers had come to inspect the vessel and retrieve the bodies when Okene gently reached his hand out to touch a diver’s arm.

So as not to scare him, Okene withdrew his arm and waved.

Following the discovery, the next challenge was getting Okene safely to the surface.

After such a long time at depth, Okene had absorbed potentially fatal amounts of nitrogen and bringing him suddenly to the surface would induce a deadly attack of the bends.

The team needed suited Okene with a diving helmet and guided him to a diving bell, designed to maintain internal pressure.

Unfortunately, he lost consciousness during the transfer but managed to survive.

The bell then brought him safely to the surface, where he spent two days in a decompression chamber.

Okene suffered from peeling skin, recurring nightmares, and insatiable hunger, but was otherwise in good health.

He had assumed that all the other 11 crew made it safely to the surface when the boat went down, while he alone sank to the bottom until later that he learned that he was the sole survivor.

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All the bodies of his companions were recovered except one, who was never found.

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