PORT FOURCHON, La. (KLFY) — 10 days of public hearings and 32 witnesses provided a clearer picture of what may have caused the Seacor Power to capsize.
In the first week of testimonies, survivors and rescuers gave their accounts to the United States Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board.
Seacor Power First Mate Bryan Mires was in the bridge when he remembers seeing the starboard side of the ship lean. He tried to jack down legs and turn into the waves and wind as the Seacor Power began to list to its side. With the last control he had of the ship, he activated an emergency signal just as he realized the liftboat was going over.
Mires recalled, “I grabbed the door, and we were going over, and that’s when I watched Dave, that’s when I watched Dave fall. I never saw him again.”
At the same time, Steve Lewis was thrown out of bed.
“So I grabbed my life jacket, and while I was going to put it on, the TV and the shelves flew at me off the wall,” Lewis stated. He and another survivor used a fire extinguisher to break a window to escape the sinking ship.
While the 19 people aboard worked to survive, the United States Coast Guard was receiving multiple alerts from several ships in the area. Sector 8 Watch Commander Brandon Critchfield called Seacor Dispatch to make sure the emergency beacon triggered on the Power was not an accident, but the answer he received was wrong.
“He guaranteed us that it was moored in Fourchon, and they were probably doing some maintenance or something got bumped,” Critchfield testified about his phone call with Seacor Marine Dispatch. “Because it was unlocated all we had to go off of was that person’s word.”
About an hour later, the rain let up enough that the nearby liftboat Rockfish saw the situation.
Captain Ted Duhtu remembered what his crew did next, “He opened the door and said, ‘It don’t look good.’ That’s when we saw the Seacor Power on its side.”
The Rockfish issued a Mayday call and Good Samaritans ships arrived to help, including the Glen Harris Cutter.
Captian Leonard Guidry of Bollinger Shipyard was leading that ship and said he “Immediately spotted persons on the side of the Seacor Power still. There were five persons holding on.”
While water rescue was underway, storms grounded air rescue from Mobile and New Orleans. Plus, Coast Guard officials said they received conflicting numbers of how many were on the capsized ship from Seacor Marine Dispatch and survivors.
“Not knowing how many people we were looking for became extremely frustrating,” Critchfield remarked.
The first air support arrived three and a half hours after the capsizing when a client of Bristow Helicopters told them of the disaster. Bristow Helicopters rescuers made multiple unsuccessful attempts to convince people to leave the ship so they could be hoisted out of the water.
Jason Jennison, who was at the end of the rope testified, “You cannot be certain that they would have survived in the water. The only certainty was that they had a better chance in the water than they had in the boat.”
Bristow dropped a radio to explain the urgency over the 10-12 foot seas, and when someone said they were willing to go for it, Jason Jennison was lowered in the water, but Coast Guard aircraft arrived asking Bristow to leave so they could take over the rescue effort.
Bristow said about 20 minutes later, the Coast Guard decided it would not be a good idea to hoist any more that night. By the next morning, that hatch that crew members retreated to was underwater.
Jim Peters was the Bristow Helicopters hoist operator at the top of the line. He said, “The outcome that we wanted didn’t happen, so with that, I think that’s the worst thing because in our parts I guess you could say we failed.”
All of those testimonies are from just the first week of hearings. In the second week, the National Weather Service and the companies behind putting the Seacor Power to sea and planning rescue efforts revealed more mistakes.