New Brunswick

Orient Lucky captain recounts rescuing Nathan Carman after 8 days at sea

American media has been swarming for interviews with the captain of a freighter docked in Saint John, after his crew performed a stunning rescue more than 200 kilometres off Cape Cod.

22-year-old man saved after being found more than 200 kilometres off Cape Cod

American media has been swarming for interviews with the captain of a freighter docked in Saint John, after his crew performed a stunning rescue more than 200 kilometres off Cape Cod. 1:43

American media has been swarming for interviews with the captain of a freighter docked in Saint John, after his crew performed a stunning rescue more than 200 kilometres off Cape Cod. 

"I decided it must be trouble," said Capt. Zhao Hengdong, waving his arms over his head in a show of distress.

He said that was how 22-year-old Nathan Carman first appeared to his crew members, while trying to get their attention.

He was in a rubber life raft that kept him alive for eight days while he drifted at sea. 

Nathan Carman was rescued more than 200 kilometres off Cape Cod. The freighter that was involved in the rescue is now docked in Saint John. (Submitted by Captain Zhao Hengdong)
Carman would later tell the U.S. Coast Guard that he'd gone fishing with his mother on Sept. 18.

He said the same day they departed, he heard a funny noise in the engine compartment and their 9.5-metre aluminum fishing vessel called The Chicken Pox started taking on water.  

Carman said he lost sight of his mother and she never made it onto the raft. 

Hengdong said the seas were rough the day of the rescue. (Brian Chisholm/CBC)
In a recorded interview with the Coast Guard, Carman can be heard asking if his mother was found. The Coast Guard answered no. Linda Carman, 54, is now presumed dead.

Hengdong said the seas were rough the day of the rescue and the winds were high. 

After some careful manoeuvring, the freighter got close to enough to Carman for crew to throw him a life ring. He was able to swim to it and he was pulled on board.

Hengdong said Carman seemed tired but thankful and spent the first day on the ship just resting in his cabin.

He said the second day Carman was given permission to walk outside on the ship. Hengdong said Carman seemed sad. 

Media frenzy

The story of the rescue became a sensation along the Eastern seaboard. Then various news outlets started looking into Nathan Carman's past.

Carman had been a suspect in the murder of his grandfather in 2013. (Submitted by Captain Zhao Hengdong)
They reported that he had been a suspect in the 2013 murder of his grandfather. John Chakalos, 87, was then described as a multimillionaire real estate developer who was shot in his home.  

The Hartford Courant newspaper reported that Chakalos' estate was worth about $40 million US, and his four daughters, including Linda Carman, were beneficiaries of about $21 million.

After the fishing vessel sank, The Courant also reported that police were investigating Nathan Carman for knowingly operating an unsafe vessel thereby putting his mother's life in danger.

Shipping agent Tom O'Reilly says he's been flooded with media requests about the rescue. (Brian Chisholm/CBC)
Such twists in the story have kept it in the headlines and have fueled multiple media requests for interviews with Hengdong in port in Saint John.

As of Tuesday the only way to get permission to get on board Orient Lucky was to go through the shipping agent Tom O'Reilly. 

In an interview dockside, O'Reilly said he was getting almost more phone calls than he could manage.

"When I've been on the phone, the phone is constantly beeping letting me know someone else wants to talk," said O'Reilly.

"As soon as I hang up, there's another call. And in order to do my regular job, I have to just not answer, sometimes."

"They're just wondering how they came across this guy. What was his physical condition?  What do they think was his mental condition at the time."

The Orient Lucky has been docked in Saint John since the rescue. (Brian Chisholm/CBC)
O'Reilly said Orient Lucky is due to leave Saint John no later than Thursday. It's been loading scrap materials at the American Iron and Metal terminal on the west side of the port.

When that's done, it will sail for Turkey.

Hengdong said it could be several more trips before he makes a visit to his home in northern China. After working at sea for 16 years, Hengdong said Carman was his first rescue. 

"I feel happy I can help," said Hengdong.

About the Author

Rachel Cave is a CBC reporter based in Saint John, New Brunswick.

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