US Coast Guard rescuers on Monday pulled four trapped men alive from a capsized cargo ship, drilling into the hull’s steel plates to extract the crew members more than a day after their vessel overturned while leaving a port in Brunswick, Georgia.
All four were described as alert and in relatively good condition, and were taken to a hospital for further evaluation.
“Best day of my 16-year career,” said US Coast Guard Lieutenant Lloyd Heflin, who was coordinating the effort.
A video posted online by the coast guard showed responders clapping and cheering as the final man, wearing only shorts, climbed out of a hole in the hull and stood up.
Three of the South Korean crew members came out in the middle of the afternoon. The fourth man, who was trapped in a separate compartment, emerged three hours later.
The rescues followed nearly 36 hours of work after the Golden Ray, a giant ship that carries vehicles, rolled onto its side early on Sunday as it was leaving Brunswick, bound for Baltimore, Maryland.
“All crew members are accounted for,” the US Coast Guard Southeast tweeted. “Operations will now shift fully to environmental protection, removing the vessel and resuming commerce.”
In the hours immediately after the accident, the coast guard lifted 20 crew members into helicopters before determining that smoke and flames and unstable cargo made it too risky to venture further inside the vessel.
That left responders looking for the remaining four crew members.
Rescuers thought the noises that they were hearing inside could be some of the vehicles crashing around, but by dawn on Monday, they were confident that the taps were responses to their own taps, indicating that someone was alive inside.
“They were charged up knowing people were alive,” US Coast Guard Captain John Reed said.
On Monday, responders began drilling, starting with a 7.5cm hole.
US Coast Guard personnel brought the Golden Ray’s chief engineer, who was rescued Sunday, out to the ship to translate and found that three of the men were “on board and okay,” as Heflin put it.
Responders set up a tent on the hull and began drilling additional holes, eventually making an opening large enough to insert a ladder and help the men climb out.
“It was like connect the dots,” Reed said of the hole, which grew to 60cm by 1m.
The fourth rescue was a greater challenge.
That crewman was behind glass in a separate engineering compartment on another deck, Reed said.
The Golden Ray is now stuck in the shipping channel, closing one of the busiest US seaports.
One ship is unable to leave the port, and four more vessels are lined up outside and waiting to come in, ship-tracking Web site Marine Traffic said.
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