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Video: Severe Conditions Prevented Heli Rescue for Seacor Power's Crew

seacor power
Rescue swimmer Jason Jennison attempts to reach the rail of the Seacor Power as waves wash over the wreck's side (Bristow Helicopters)

Published Aug 8, 2021 4:25 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Coast Guard has released video footage from an attempted rescue effort the night of the capsizing of the liftboat Seacor Power off Louisiana, which left six dead and seven missing. 

The Seacor Power captized and partially sank in extreme high winds at about 1500 hours on April 13. Coast Guard watchstanders in New Orleans became aware of the casualty about 30 minutes after it occurred, but the wind conditions prevented them from dispatching locally-based aviation assets to the scene. An offshore industry rescue helicopter operated by Bristow Aviation departed Galliano at about 1915 and was the first aircraft to arrive.

The helicopter reached Seacor Power after dark, and the pilot, Jim Peters, told a Coast Guard hearing on Thursday that the conditions were far too rough to carry out a successful rescue - though his crew tried anyways. 

"We got [rescue swimmer Jason Jennison] on the railings and he was able to make eye contact with [a group of survivors] and we got pretty close but with the way the railings were, we were hovering there with him on the hook for 10 or 15 minutes at that point in time," he said. "The wave action was crashing over them, we had sea spray hitting the helicopter at 80 feet."

Jennison told the panel that the situation was the worst he'd seen in 27 years in the business. He tried to talk the survivors off the vessel and into the water for a swim rescue, where they would not run the risk of slamming into the vessel during hoisting, but they would not do it. "Trying to get someone that terrified to get into the ocean with the waves crashing over them . . . it was a challenge that would've taken a leap of faith to do," he said. 

The newly built, not-yet-commissioned Coast Guard cutter USCGC Glenn Harris happened to have departed Bollinger Shipyard shortly after Seacor Power. She was out on sea trials, and she diverted at reports of the casualty and arrived on the scene about an hour and a half after the capsizing. Her crew found five survivors hanging onto the side of the capsized lift boat. 

After the Glenn Harris' unsuccessful attempts to reach the vessel with a rescue boat - an effort that was frustrated by the tangle of wreckage and rough seas - one of the survivors jumped into the water and swam out to a position where the Glenn Harris' crew could reach him. A second survivor went over the side and was picked up by a Coast Guard response boat. A third disappeared, and the remaining two climbed into a hatch to escape rising wave action and rough winds. 

Severe conditions prevented helicopter rescuers from reaching them that night, and by the morning, the vessel had settled and the hatch was underwater. The two men were not recovered alive.