Survivor of capsized lift boat details escape during hearing

Aug 2, 2021, 2:22 PM | Updated: 3:26 pm

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A man who was on a liftboat that capsized off the coast of Louisiana in April, killing 13 people on board, on Monday recalled how he hammered on a window with a fire extinguisher, was sucked into the sea by a wave and then prayed to God to calm the seas as he floated in the choppy waters before being rescued.

Dwayne Lewis spoke Monday during the first day of what is slated to be a two-week hearing by the Coast Guard into the events of April 13 when a ship called the Seacor Power capsized about seven miles (11 kilometers) off the Louisiana coast. Only six people on board survived. including Lewis. He is one of two survivors slated to speak during the hearing.

“You’re just begging God to please calm the seas,” said Lewis, who cannot swim, of his time in the water. “You talk to your dead momma, and you tell her you’re not ready to see her.”

Lewis was a contractor who was on the Seacor Power as a representative of Talos Energy, owner of the oil platform where the Seacor Power was heading.

Lewis said he had gone to his room to take a nap when the ship capsized. It had started to rain but there was no other indication that the weather was about to get frighteningly bad. Visibility was “great” and the waves were only about 2 to 3 feet (0.61 to 0.91 meters) high, he said. He awoke to the boat rolling and a roiling ocean.

“I felt one big roll and when I jumped up it continued until it crashed. It was a thumping stop,” Lewis said. Eventually he and another person on board smashed out the window in Lewis’ room and escaped. Lewis was picked up by a boat a few hours later.

Both Lewis and the other person who testified Monday, Captain Ted Duthu, said there was little indication that the weather was going to degrade so quickly. Duthu was captaining the nearby Rockfish — a liftboat similar to the Seacor Power. Liftboats have three or four legs that can extend to the sea floor and lift the boat above the water and then retract when the ship needs to move. The boats are often used in the offshore oil and gas industry to ferry supplies and service platforms.

Duthu told the Coast Guard panel that his boat had just lowered his ship’s legs to the sea floor and raised his ship when the skies got dark. At that time he could see the Seacor Power in the distance. Rain started to fall.

“That’s when all hell broke loose. It started raining,” Duthu said. As it began raining harder, he lost sight of the Seacor Power in the distance. Waves were slamming the bottom of the Rockfish, and it felt as if his ship was dancing because it was moving around so much, said Duthu. His wind gauge read 95 miles (153 kilometers) per hour, Duthu said.

When visibility returned, he could sea the Seacor Power on its side and immediately called for assistance, but Duthu said he never heard the Seacor Power call for help.

He said none of his weather reports or radio traffic indicated a squall of this size coming through. If the squall had come any sooner, when his ship’s legs were still up, it could have been even worse, said Duthu: “Fifteen minutes later, the Rockfish would have been laying on its side next to the Seacor Power.”

A preliminary report by the National Transportation Safety Board said the Seacor Power had begun to lower its legs and was trying to turn to face heavy winds when it flipped.

Lewis also fielded questions about the stability of the load the Seacor Power was carrying, saying that the captain was making sure the equipment was centered on the deck. However, he said it wasn’t strapped down — something he said was normal for liftboats that he’d worked on previously. He said the ship was riding level and not listing to one side or the other when they set sail.

The hearing was held in Houma, La. and livestreamed as well. After the hearing ends, the Coast Guard will release a report with its conclusions but it could be months before that happens.

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Follow Santana on Twitter @ruskygal.

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Survivor of capsized lift boat details escape during hearing