A man who survived the capsizing of a lift boat off the coast of Louisiana testified at a Coast Guard hearing on Monday that he had to break a window with a fire extinguisher to escape the vessel and that he prayed to God as he drifted in storm-driven seas for more than three hours.
The man, Dwayne Lewis, was one of six survivors from the lift boat, called the Seacor Power, that capsized during a storm on April 13, killing 13 people. A lift boat is a work vessel with legs that can jack up and turn the boat into a platform above the water.
Mr. Lewis recalled his experience, beginning with going to his cabin to take a nap, at a Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation hearing into the episode.
“I laid down on the blanket, dozed off, and the boat rolled,” Mr. Lewis said. “When I felt it roll, I jumped up, and I grabbed my life jacket.”
As Mr. Lewis put his life jacket on, the television and the shelves in his room fell at him off the wall, he said.
“I looked out the window, and I could see the deck, which I shouldn’t have been able to see the deck,” Mr. Lewis said. “But I saw the deck — it was sideways.”
As he tried to escape, Mr. Lewis said, he recalled his safety orientation, where he had learned that in an emergency, a window would be the way out.
“I pushed on that window as hard as I could,” Mr. Lewis said, “and it would never budge.” Mr. Lewis said he then used a steel-toed boot to try to break open the window, and “nothing happened.” He was finally able to break the window by using a fire extinguisher.
As soon he had broken the window, Mr. Lewis said, he was sucked into the ocean, and started to float away. He said he tried to grab a rope from the boat and catch the attention of another boat nearby to no avail.
“I just made myself into a ball,” Mr. Lewis said. “You’re getting beat up, and then you’re just begging God to please calm the seas, please calm the seas. Then you talk to your dead mama, and you tell her you’re not ready to see her.”
After drifting for three to four hours in seas of 10 to 12 feet, with driving rain and lightning, Mr. Lewis was rescued by the crew of another vessel. Five more crew members were found in the hours after the capsizing.
In the following days, the Coast Guard searched more than 9,268 square nautical miles for more than 175 hours in hopes of finding more survivors.
Ted Duthu, who had captained a lift boat called the Rockfish, also testified at Monday’s hearing.
The Seacor Power was visible from the Rockfish that day, and there were few signs of bad weather before it capsized, Mr. Duthu said. Before the Seacor Power capsized, it had started to rain, he said.
“That’s when all hell broke loose,” Mr. Duthu said, adding that winds had kicked up to 95 miles per hour, which are as strong as a Category 1 hurricane.
Before the rain began, Mr. Duthu said, he lowered the Rockfish’s legs to the sea floor and raised the ship, a decision that most likely saved him and his crew.
“Fifteen minutes later, the Rockfish would have been laying on its side next to the Seacor Power,” Mr. Duthu said.
Another survivor is expected to testify at the hearing in Houma, La. Some time after the hearing, the Coast Guard is expected to share a report about the Seacor Power capsizing.