In freezing temperatures 100ft below the Atlantic Ocean in an upended tugboat, and with no sign of a likely rescue, Harrison Odjegba Okene took what must have seemed his last available option. He began to pray.
What followed was a sequence of events that Mr Okene still believes to be an act of God and that many have used to justify the description of the 29-year-old Nigerian cook as a 'phenomenon'.
Breathing the ever-dwindling supply of oxygen in an air pocket he had struggled into after the boat he was on capsized off the Nigerian coast, Mr Okene managed to survive beneath the surface for an astonishing 72 hours.
Dressed only in boxer shorts, and sipping from a bottle of Coca Cola for sustenance, Mr Okene recited psalms sent to him by his wife in a text message before the accident.
He told the Nation newspaper: “I started calling on the name of God…I started reminiscing on the verses I read before I slept. I read the Bible from Psalm 54 to 92. My wife had sent me the verses to read that night when she called me before I went to bed.”
Meanwhile divers sent to recover bodies from the scene of the wreck had already found and retrieved four corpses when Tony Walker, project manager for the Dutch company DCN Diving - who was monitoring the operation, saw a hand appear on the screen he was looking at. Mr Walker told Associated Press that he initially assumed the hand was attached to another dead body.
“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.
“It was frightening for everybody. For the guy that was trapped because he didn't know what was happening. It was a shock for the diver while he was down there looking for bodies, and we (in the control room) shot back when the hand grabbed him on the screen.”
On video footage of the moment, Mr Okene also looks terrified at the sudden appearance of his soon to be rescuers.
The stunned diver can be heard exclaiming: “There's a survivor! He's alive”.
The moment of the rescue has now gone viral after being posted online by DCN Diving over six months after the incident back in May.
Astonished to find a survivor - three days after the boat sank - the rescuers still had the difficult task of returning Okene to the surface from 30 meters below the ocean.
The divers first used hot water to warm Okene before they attached an oxygen mask to him, strapped on diving equipment and used a diving bell to slowly take him to the surface. Okene subsequently spent two days in a decompression chamber.
After three days at the bottom of the ocean Okene had absorbed potentially fatal levels of nitrogen. At the time diving experts described Mr Okene as a ‘phenomenon’ for surviving so long at those depths.
Speaking about his rescue in an interview with a Nigerian newspaper Mr Okene attributed his rescue to divine intervention: “The rest of my life is not enough to thank God for this wonder, it is incredible,” he said.Reuse content