HOUMA, La. (KLFY) — Thursday was the fourth day of public hearings conducted by the Coast Guard on details about the Seacor Power tragedy. Crewmembers aboard the first aircraft that attempted to rescue men from the capsized vessel shared why it was such a difficult job.
It was a heartbreaking testimony from two men who thought they could save the men clinging to the Seacor Power for safety, but ultimately none of the crew risked the waves when they lowered a lifeline to help.
Bristow Helicopters heard of the Seacor Power capsizing from a customer and quickly mobilized from Lafourche Parish at about 7:15 p.m.
By the time they arrived, it was already dark.
Jim Peters, a hoist operator with Bristow Helicopters, recounted the difficulty of rescue efforts on the night of the incident.
“You cannot be certain that they would have survived in the water,” Peters said. “The only certainty was that they had a better chance in the water than they had in the boat.”
Because of all the railing in the way and the possibility of the boat lurching and pulling the helicopter out of the sky, the aircrew determined the safest option was to convince three men to jump off the ship where they could be grabbed in the water and pulled up.
“But after a few minutes of trying that, nobody got in the water,” Peters said.
The Coast Guard boats asked them to try something different and drop things that could be used to float on or communicate with.
Once they talked turned their radio on, the news was not good.
Peters said one of the men said he couldn’t swim.
Because of fuel and rain damaging helmet communications, the aircraft made a stop at base. While doing so, they learned one person fell into the water and did not survive.
Jason Jennison, a rescue specialist with Bristow Helicopters, said he was 95% sure that it was Captain David Ledet.
When the helicopter returned, two crewmen were behind a hatch, and the hoist team gave a final plea.
“I told them to tell the survivors it’s not getting any better,” Jennison said, “this is your strongest minute right now.”
“This is the time that you have to go,” Jennison continued, “and I believe that’s the time that one of the survivors on the vessel said, ‘Okay, we’re going to go for it.'”
That’s when the Coast Guard 65 from New Orleans came out, and Bristow departed the scene, so the Coast Guard could take over the rescue effort.
According to the helicopter crew, they focused their efforts on searching the surrounding area after the Coast Guard took over air rescue.
They 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, the hatch that the two crew members retreated to was underwater.
“The outcome that we wanted didn’t happen,” Peters said. “So with that, I think that’s the worst thing, because in our parts I guess you could say we failed.”
The inspector and surveyor who performed the last annual check of the ship also testified on Thursday. There were no major deficiencies, and minor ones were quickly fixed.