Survival Suits on the Bridge

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Lessons from the El Faro Tragedy, by Capt. Bill Pike (continued)

Survival Suits on the Bridge

What ensued was the worst storm I’ve ever had the good fortune to live through on the water. A couple hours after dark, the wind shifted into the northeast and began roaring down the entire length of the lake, creating outrageous conditions for any vessel bound in the opposite direction. My shipmates pretty much agreed that night that we were encountering 30-foot head seas; not constantly, mind you, but often enough. The passageways on the main deck were awash at one point—water, very cold water, had somehow gotten in and was sloshing back and forth, an eerie scene lit by the ship’s emergency lights.

But the real deal was topside, several stories up. Undoubtedly due to the wholly suspect but wholly human belief that survival is directly related to community, most of the crew stood as one on the bridge, watching what was playing out beyond the front windows, in the white glow of two enormous spotlights. Every one of us had donned a survival suit.

What we saw out there was fascinating, albeit terrifyingly so. Each time the bow slammed into a wave, the entire forward half of the ship would go underwater, virtually disappearing from view. A few moments later, as the ship shook wildly from the blow she’d just taken, the huge propeller at her stern would break free of its element, overspeed, and whir violently. Then ultimately, after seconds had ticked by with the seeming duration of hours, the entire throng would cheer in a collective roar as the forward half of the ship started to emerge, shedding literally tons of water, struggling like a drowning man to rise clear and return to the pale beams of the spotlights, just before having to deal with the awful onslaught all over again.

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These images testify to the ferocity of Hurricane Joaquin, ultimately a category-4 storm.

The navigation bridge is seen detached and at a distance from the rest of the ship’s lofty superstructure.
A corner of the deck from which the navigation bridge was detatched.

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