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Safe on shore, sailors tell a dramatic story of survival

By Gary T. Kubota

LAST UPDATED: 09:55 p.m. HST, Feb 09, 2012

Three sailors, including a 9-year-old boy, survived a harrowing rescue at sea off Hawaii Wednesday after the container ship that came to the aid of their disabled sailboat accidently crashed into the vessel in rough 20-foot seas.

"I'm going to die, I'm going to die," that's what 9-year-old West James thought when the 900-foot container ship Horizon Reliance hit their 38-foot sailboat, sinking it and sending them into the ocean in the middle of the night.

His father Bradley James, 33, sensed his son's panic.

"No we're not going to die," Bradley James recalled telling his son.He said he told they boy  they would  be rescued, even as they drifted into the night, in high seas, away from rescuers aboard the Horizon Reliance. They struggled to swim toward the vessel for nearly two hours before finally being pulled aboard.

 West James, his father Bradley, 33, and uncle Mitchell, 29, held a press conference early this morning after arriving at Honolulu Harbor on the container ship.

The three Canadians were about 280 miles northeast of Hilo on their 38-foot sailboat Linahona in heavy seas and strong winds Tuesday when the vessel lost its mast and the engine overheated. The Horizon Reliance, about 149 miles away, reached them at about 1:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Capt. James Kelleher of the Horizon Reliance said waves were 20 to 25 feet with winds gusting to 55 knots.

"There were terrible conditions and in the process of the rescue the conditions deteriorated from there," Kelleher said.

"It was scary," said West James, who added that he started worrying about sharks, hypothermia and the possibility of losing his father. "I was just so freaked out that I was going to lose my dad or I was going to bleed to death."

"Our hearts were just sinking but we were doing what we could," Horizon Reliance First Mate Steven Itson told KITV. Crew members were assigned to keep the boy and his father, who had drifted away, in sight. "They drifted out into the darkness where we could hardly see them, but we never lost sight of them."

"I'll never forget the sound of crushing fiberglass," said Bradley James. He said he kept swimming and reassuring his son that they would be OK as they drifted in the dark ocean. "It didn't help that we did Cub Scout things on board and we learned all about hypothermia," he said. 

He said he reassured his son that as long as he was shivering, he wasn't going to die and to keep awake and alert.

Itson said winds were so strong that the rain was blowing sideways, making visibility difficult.

The Coast Guard credits life jackets equipped with strobe lights for saving their lives.

The ship's crew was able to reach Mitchell James quickly and brought him aboard, they they began the delicate maneuvers to bring the container ship close to the father and son still in the water.

At 3:20 a.m., about two hours after the container ship reached the sailboat, Bradley and West James were safely brought aboard.

"I had to put a 900-foot ship close enough to throw a line to these folks without running them over, without crushing them, without killing them," Kelleher told Hawaii News Now. "We prevailed."

When he came aboard, West James said he was so relieved, he didn't know what to say.

"I wanted to say something, but I just couldn't. I wanted to thank them, but I couldn't find the right words."

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Mulepower wrote:
Blessed that no one got seriously injured. Wow, how interesting to take the 9 year old out to sea that far away. I know it's a great adventure but, thank God that he was watching over them.
on February 9,2012 | 07:10AM
Polani wrote:
Kudo's and Congrat's to the Capt./Crew of the Horizon Reliance. Great Job!
on February 9,2012 | 07:22AM
copperwire9 wrote:
on February 9,2012 | 08:57AM
johncdechon wrote:
This comment has been deleted.
on February 9,2012 | 08:58AM
CloudForest wrote:
What an weak question, for this I'd be happy to help pay !! But I'm guessing that it was the container lines that actually willingly paid with private monies to do this much needed and timely rescue. But for you John, must not be one ounce of hero in you - how sad.
on February 9,2012 | 10:36AM
svache wrote:
Who cares who pays for it, at least they got saved and alive to tell the story. Would you be worried about who pays for the cost if you were the one to be rescued? I think you'll thank god on your bare knees if someone rescued you without thinking about the possible cost.
on February 9,2012 | 11:07AM
svache wrote:
btw, I believe it's even maritime law to rescue others on sea if there's a need to do so and I believe the need was really there.
on February 9,2012 | 11:09AM
sohappy2beme wrote:
Really dude? This is all you have to say? You think they should be left out there? What if that were your family? Or you? Where is your aloha? Or just basic humanity for that matter?
on February 9,2012 | 11:23AM
NanakuliBoss wrote:
Numerous rescues on Kauai ,same day. 3 rescued from rip current on Maui. All visitors. Gee, Im all for safety, but didn't the weather report say, extreme conditions with rain,wind and waves? Hawaii is such a beautiful place,how could anything go wrong?Duh. It's like driving on the H1 going from Mililani to town with the needle on E. Praying that you can make it.
on February 9,2012 | 11:23AM
waikiicapt wrote:
This was a 900 foot steam powered ship (as opposed to a diesel engine). It's quite a feat to maneuver this particular ship in those conditions and accomplish what he did...safely. Capt. Jim and the Mate Steve deserve all the credit they have coming. I truly wish more "yachties" would re-assess their boats before they set out to sea and cross oceans without giving more thought to what the conditions 'could' be like and not just what they hope the weather will be. A broken mast and junk engine. Now what? Call for help. Just like that. Easy. What would you do if there were no ship around?
on February 9,2012 | 09:24AM
jkjones wrote:
ironic that their distress call for help resuted in the sinking of their boat. still, i agree with most posters, this was a rescue calling for brilliant skill on board the Horizon Reliance. bravo to all involved.
on February 9,2012 | 10:08AM
CloudForest wrote:
Thank God in heaven that this turned out so well, three for three - that's awesome!!
on February 9,2012 | 10:34AM
kailuabred wrote:
Thank the captain od the ship. God had nothing to do with it.
on February 10,2012 | 03:00AM
Admirable wrote:
Hats off Captain Kellaher and the crew of the vessel Horizon Reliance for a dangerous job well done! The training and professionalism of the U.S. trained Captain and Crew of the Reliance saved 3 lives. A job well done.
on February 10,2012 | 11:38AM
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