HOUMA, La. (KLFY) — On the third day of hearings explaining the Seacor Power disaster, all of the witnesses were members of the United States Coast Guard.
Watch commanders and rescue teams testified what went wrong in the emergency response. Six people were saved on the liftboat on April 13. Six died and seven were never found.
One of the most startling things learned Wednesday is that the Coast Guard received some major misinformation the night the Seacor Power capsized.
At 3:40 P.M. an emergency radio beacon triggered aboard the Seacor Power. It had no location at first, and Sector 8 Coast Guard watch commander Brandon Critchfield called Seacor Dispatch to make sure it was not an accident. He was told the liftboat had not even left the dock.
“He guaranteed us that it was moored in Fourchon and they were probably doing some maintenance or something got bumped, recalled Critchfield. “Because it was unlocated all we had to go off of was that person’s word.”
Since five emergency beacons were triggered in the same 15-minute window, the Coast Guard directed their attention elsewhere and told Seacor Marine to call them back. 30 minutes later the truth of a capsized vessel came from reports, the location of the beacon, and a return call from Seacor Marine.
“That’s kind of when everything started coming together that the vessel that we thought was at the dock was actually in distress,” Critchfield told the Coast Guard panel.
Search and rescue operations jumpstarted in the following minutes, but severe weather diverted planes in New Orleans and Mobile. An urgent marine broadcast went out to Good Samaritans at 4:40 P.M.
The first Coast Guard vessels from Grand Isle arrived more than an hour later. USCG Grand Isle Station Coxswain Jessica Gill said she was notified of bodies in the water at 5:20 P.M.
“There were five people I believe holding onto the lift boat shortly after we got on scene. One had gone into the water,” recalled Gill.
While collecting the Seacor crew, she stated one of rescuers fell overboard and had to be retrieved while the 10 to 16 foot waves raged on.
Gill said, “At that point, we discussed as a crew that it was no longer safe for us to continue the mission.”
Unfortunately, there was more misinformation that the Coast Guard claimed they received that night. Watch Commander Critchfield said he was initially told there were seven souls on board the Seacor Power, then 17 and 18, and he didn’t hear the correct number of 19 people on board until the next morning.
According to Critchfield, “Not knowing how many people we were looking for became extremely frustrating.”
The Coast Guard Hearing Board Chairwoman Tracy Phillips said it is important to question their own people to see if they can improve search and rescue practices.
When asked about the misinformation, she said, “We’re going to look at the timeline of all of that, and see if that affected the rescue efforts and if there was any effect to the timeline of the response.”
Thursday morning’s hearing will begin with the testimony Good Samaritan helicopter crew that aided in the rescue.