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‘Rescue of a lifetime’: 4 pulled safely from overturned ship

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    In this image taken from U.S. Coast Guard video on Monday, Sept. 9, 2019, a crew member of a capsized cargo ship is pulled from the vessel by Coast Guard rescuers off Jekyll Island, Ga. Coast Guard rescuers pulled four trapped men alive from the ship Monday, drilling into the hull’s steel plates to extract the crew members more than a day after their vessel overturned while leaving a Georgia port. (U.S. Coast Guard via AP)

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    Rescuers work near the stern of the vessel Golden Ray as it lays on its side near the Moran tug boat Dorothy Moran, Monday, Sept. 9, 2019, in Jekyll Island, Ga. Coast Guard rescuers have made contact with four South Korean crew members trapped inside the massive cargo ship off the coast of Georgia. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

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    In this image released by the U.S. Coast Guard, a USCG helicopter hovers over an overturned cargo ship in St. Simons Sound, Ga., Monday, Sept. 9, 2019. The U.S. Coast Guard says rescuers have heard noises from inside the ship where multiple crew members are missing after their huge vessel overturned and caught fire off Georgia’s coast. (U.S. Coast Guard via AP)

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    In this Monday, Sept. 9, 2019 image taken from U.S. Coast Guard video, a crew member of a capsized cargo ship is assisted by Coast Guard rescuers after being pulled from a capsized cargo ship off Jekyll Island, Ga. Coast Guard rescuers pulled four trapped men alive from the ship Monday, drilling into the hull’s steel plates to extract the crew members more than a day after their vessel overturned while leaving a Georgia port. (U.S. Coast Guard via AP)

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    In this image released by the U.S. Coast Guard Monday, Sept. 10, 2019, shows a crew member of the cargo ship Golden Ray as he is helped off the capsized ship off St. Simons Island, Ga. A fire broke out aboard the ship early Sunday, listing it to the side and blocking the shipping channel. The Coast Guard and a salvage crew freed the four remaining Golden Ray crew members. (U.S. Coast Guard via AP)

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    In this image released by the U.S. Coast Guard shows a crew member of the cargo ship Golden Ray as he is helped off the capsized ship Monday, Sept. 9, 2019 off St. Simons Island, Ga. A fire broke out aboard the ship early Sunday, listing it to the side and blocking the shipping channel. (U.S. Coast Guard via AP)

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    Smoke rises from a cargo ship that capsized in the St. Simons Island, Georgia sound Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019. (Bobby Haven/The Brunswick News via AP)

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    People are shown on Jekyll Island’s Driftwood Beach as the Golden Ray cargo ship is capsized in the background, off the Georgia coast, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Terry Dickson)

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    A U.S. Coast Guard boat rides in front of a cargo ship that capsized in the St. Simons Island sound, Ga., Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019. (Bobby Haven/The Brunswick News via AP)

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    People look at a capsized cargo ship off the St. Simons Island Pier Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019, in Ga. (Bobby Haven/The Brunswick News via AP)

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    Coast Guard crews and port partners respond to a disabled cargo vessel with a fire on board Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019, in St. Simons Sound, Ga. (U.S. Coast Guard via AP)

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    In this image released by the U.S. Coast Guard, a crew member of the cargo ship Golden Ray is helped off the capsized ship Monday, Sept. 9, 2019, off St. Simons Island, Ga. A fire broke out aboard the ship early Sunday, listing it to the side and blocking the shipping channel. The Coast Guard began pulling the four trapped crew members from the capsized ship, 20 others taken to land by by the coast guard. (U.S. Coast Guard via AP)

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    Members of the U.S. Coast Guard unload supplies from a Coast Guard helicopter from the side of the cargo ship Golden Ray, Monday, Sept. 9, 2019, after their vessel overturned while leaving the Port of Brunswick, Ga., early Sunday morning. The Coast Guard were attempting to rescue 4 crew members trapped on the ship. (Bobby Haven/The Brunswick News via AP)

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    In this image released by the U.S. Coast Guard, a crew member of the cargo ship Golden Ray is helped off the capsized ship Monday, Sept. 9, 2019, off St. Simons Island, Ga. A fire broke out aboard the ship early Sunday, listing it to the side and blocking the shipping channel. The Coast Guard began pulling the four trapped crew members from the capsized ship, 20 others taken to land by by the coast guard. (U.S. Coast Guard via AP)

Published September 11. 2019 05:41AM

SAVANNAH, Ga. — Four crew members trapped in the bowels of an overturned cargo ship waited for nearly 36 hours in pitch darkness and oven-like heat, perched on pipes and railings above deep water before they were pulled to safety, rescue coordinators said Tuesday.

The South Korean sailors emerged Monday from a hole drilled through the steel-plated hull of the Golden Ray, which flipped onto its side along the Georgia coast. Three of them were found in the engine room after making tapping sounds all night to show they were alive, and to help rescuers pinpoint their location inside the massive vessel. The fourth had to be rescued from a partially submerged control room, trapped behind blast-proof glass that had to be cut with a diamond-tipped tool.

“These guys were in the worst possible conditions you could imagine a human being to be in,” said Tim Ferris, president of the salvage company Defiant Marine, which the U.S. Coast Guard called in to help plan and conduct the rescues. “They survived a ship’s fire, a ship capsizing, landing on the side 90-degrees in an engine room, not knowing what the conditions were in pitch black darkness.”

Ferris told The Associated Press the crewmen had to scramble in the dark along a maze of plumbing and equipment to stay above deep water flooding the 656-foot (200-meter) ship, where everything around them had suddenly gone sideways.

They also endured crushing heat and humidity. As daytime temperatures outside rose into the 90s, he said, the ship’s interior approached roughly 150 degrees (65.5 Celsius).

“The temperature in the engine room was hellish,” Ferris said. “They were being cooked.”

The Golden Ray had just left the Port of Brunswick when it overturned at about 2 a.m. Sunday with more than 4,000 cars and other vehicles in its cargo hold. The cause remains unknown.

The busy automobile port about 70 miles (112 kilometers) south of Savannah remained closed Tuesday as the Coast Guard shifted attention to how best to remove the giant vessel and contain any environmental damage.

An oil sheen spotted in the water of St. Simons Sound where the ship overturned was being soaked up by absorbent boom that acts like a string of large cotton balls. The Coast Guard said there was no indication of leaks from any of the ship’s fuel tanks.

“There is pollution. Right now it’s limited in scope,” Coast Guard Cmdr. Norm Witt said at a news conference Tuesday. However, he said having a large ship lying on its side poses “a significant pollution threat.”

Meanwhile, the Coast Guard was working with salvage experts on a plan to remove the ship, an operation Witt said will likely take “weeks, if not months.” The port itself could reopen to limited commercial traffic much sooner. Witt said Thursday was possible, though he cautioned there could be delays.

The trapped sailors “had the bare minimum in terms of supplies” before their rescue, Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Luke Clayton. He didn’t know their conditions Tuesday.

Sylvia Tervoort, a salvage expert who helped coordinate the rescues, told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Tuesday: “They are doing well at the moment. They were really exhausted when they came out.”

The Coast Guard moved in quickly to rescue 20 of the men onboard when the ship overturned Sunday, winching the men one by one aboard a hovering helicopter. Fire and concerns about instability, however, slowed efforts to go after the remaining four.

For the final rescues, the Coast Guard called in private salvage specialists with expertise in navigating shipwrecks in hazardous conditions.

Fearing a cutting torch might ignite fumes from fuel inside the ship, Ferris said, crews used drills to bore a hole just large enough to let some fresh air into the engine room and lower a radio, flashlights, food, water and electrolyte popsicles to the three men inside.

Rescuers then spent several hours drilling more than 40 holes side-by-side to cut away a section of the hull large enough to fit a ladder, Ferris said. Two of the men in the engine room had enough strength to climb out on their own, he said. Weakened by fatigue, the third was brought up on a stretcher.

Getting the final sailor out was a much more difficult challenge. He was trapped in a control room about 180 feet (55 meters) from the entry hole, requiring a 40-foot (12-meter) climb. The control room’s door was underwater, Ferris said, trapping the man behind “blast-proof glass designed to withstand an explosion.”

Wearing respirators in the stifling heat, rescuers made several unsuccessful attempts to free the crewman.

“At one point they had to fill ziplock sandwich bags full of ice and put them in every pocket of the team that went in, to cool their body temperatures as they climbed and worked,” Ferris said. “There are much better ways to do it if you have time to get your hands on the right supplies. But it did the trick.”

The team finally used a handheld cutter with a diamond tip to make score marks in the glass and break it. Ferris said the sailor “came out with a spring in his step.”

“It was miraculous,” he said. “When they came out and had sunlight on their faces, it brought a tear to the eyes of a lot of tough guys. It was a rescue of a lifetime.”

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