A Legendary Ship's Final Hours Battling Sandy


At about 4 a.m., Barksdale realized that he had lost his battle against the water in the engine room. He climbed up to the lower deck, where he saw his fellow crewmembers, but not the captain. The others told him that it was time to abandon ship.

They prepared themselves to get into the water. They collected their belongings and packed whatever they wanted to save into waterproof bags. Barksdale packed his laptop and his mobile phone. Claudene Christian remembered that she had forgotten her journal. Because she was so short and the water was already so deep, her best friend climbed belowdecks and retrieved it for her.

The crew intended to leave the ship in an orderly manner, just as they had practiced in frequent emergency drills in the past. But then came the one wave that can't be prepared for, and the ship tilted onto its side.

He didn't fall far, and Barksdale was only submerged for a moment. But when he reached the surface again, he saw that the masts and yards were being pulled in and out of the water with each passing wave. For the first time, he was scared to death.

'I Understand You Guys Want a Ride'

Barksdale had lost his glasses, which meant that he was almost blind, and the salt water was burning his eyes. He became entangled in the ropes three or four times, but each time he managed to free himself before being lifted up and hurled back down again by the next wave. He doesn't remember how long it took before he reached one of the two orange, covered liferafts that were drifting in the water. It could have been five minutes or two hours.

The rain was so dense that Coast Guard pilot Myers had almost no visibility, and he had also lost radio contact with the ship. He flew the plane lower to drop off more liferafts. They drifted through the air like feathers, tossed around by the hurricane winds. Only two of the rafts were sitting in the water and looked stable. When Myers saw their contours, he thought: There must be people sitting on the rafts, keeping them stable with their weight. This led him to conclude that there had to be survivors.

Barksdale and five others were now drifting on one of the liferafts. A wave would wash over the raft every few minutes. Someone had taken along the emergency manual, which told them that there was supposed to be a shovel-like tool on the raft that was used to skim off the water. They groped around for the shovel, but they couldn't find it.

It got light at about 6 a.m., and the wind had abated slightly. Two rescue helicopters arrived at 6:17 a.m. A few minutes later, the C-130 had used up its reserve fuel, and Myers had to turn back.

"My name is Dan. I understand you guys want a ride," said the swimmer when he poked his head inside Barksdale's liferaft. President Barack Obama would later quote these words when talking about the heroes of the storm of the century. Barksdale was the fourth or fifth crewmember to be pulled up to one of the helicopters. He fell asleep on the flight back.

By 7:30 a.m., 14 crewmembers had been rescued. Two were still missing: Claudene Christian and Captain Robin Walbridge.

A Daughter's Message Christian was dead -- her body was found drifting in the water on the same day. She had an injury on her face and a black eye, and there were two liters of water in her lungs, indicating that she probably drowned. The search for the captain was called off after three days.

Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...