POSTED: 7:41 a.m. HST, Feb 9, 2012
LAST UPDATED: 9:55 p.m. HST, Feb 9, 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."