The Nigerian survived by breathing an ever-dwindling supply of oxygen in an air pocket

Entombed at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean in an upended tugboat for three days, Harrison Odjegba Okene begged God for a miracle. The Nigerian cook survived by breathing an ever-dwindling supply of oxygen in an air pocket. A video of Mr. Okene’s rescue in May on the Internet more than six months later has gone viral this week.

As the temperature dropped to freezing, Mr. Okene, dressed only in boxer shorts, kept praying for a miracle. To this day, Mr. Okene believes his rescue after 72 hours underwater at a depth of about 100 feet is a sign of divine deliverance. The other 11 seaman aboard the Jascon died.

Divers sent to the scene were looking only for bodies, according to Tony Walker, project manager for the Dutch company DCN Diving, who were called to the scene because they were working on a neighbouring oil field 120 km away.

The divers had already pulled up four bodies.

So when a hand appeared on the TV screen, Mr. Walker was monitoring in the rescue boat, showing what the diver in the Jascon saw, everybody assumed it was another corpse.

“The diver acknowledged that he had seen the hand and then, when he went to grab the hand, the hand grabbed him!” Mr. Walker said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

“It was frightening for everybody,” he said.

On the video, there’s an exclamation of fear and shock from Mr. Okene’s rescuer, and then joy as the realisation sets in. Mr. Okene recalls hearing — “There’s a survivor! He’s alive.” Mr. Walker said Mr. Okene couldn’t have lasted much longer.

“He was incredibly lucky he was in an air pocket but he would have had a limited time [before] ... he wouldn’t be able to breathe anymore.”

The full video of the rescue captured by divers was released by DCN Diving. Initially, a shorter version of the rescue emerged on the Internet. The authenticity of the video was confirmed through conversations with DCN employees in the Netherlands. The video showing Mr. Okene was also consistent with additional photos of him on the rescue ship. Mr. Okene on Tuesday confirmed the events.

On May 26, the tug, one of three towing an oil tanker in Nigeria’s oil-rich Delta waters, gave a sudden lurch and then keeled over.

When he found a cabin of the sunken vessel that felt safe, he began the long wait, getting colder and colder as he played back a mental tape of his life remembering his mother, friends, mostly the woman he’d married five years before.

As the waters rose, he made a rack on top of a platform and piled two mattresses on top.

Mr. Okene really thought he was going to die when he heard the sound of a boat engine and anchor dropping, but failed to get the attention of rescuers. He figured, given the size of the boat, that it would take a miracle for a diver to locate him. So he waded across the cabin, stripped the wall down to its steel body, then knocked on it with a hammer. But “I heard them moving away. They were far away from where I was.”

More In: International | News | World