Nfld. & Labrador

Rescued N.L. fisherman describes terror

A man who survived the sinking of a fishing boat 130 kilometres off the coast of Newfoundland spoke about his ordeal Tuesday.

A man who survived the sinking of a fishing boat 130 kilometres off the coast of Newfoundland spoke about his ordeal Tuesday.

Jimmy Kavanagh of Cape Broyle, N.L., was one of the three men rescued after the 14-metre Sea Gypsy Enterprises went down late Saturday morning.

Robert Francis Keough, 58, of Calvert died. His body was recovered by a military search and rescue operation Saturday. A fifth crew member has not been found. His name and those of the other two surviving fishermen have not been released at their or their families' request.

Kavanagh told CBC News he knew something was wrong Saturday morning just before 11 a.m. NT when the fully loaded shrimp-fishing vessel started to slow and take on water.

"There was water on the rear deck," Kavanagh said. "The boat was too low on the water. I called the skipper, and I said, 'The boat is sinking.' He didn't believe me at first. I said, 'Get up the boat is sinking.'"

He persuaded the other crew members to put on immersion suits.

Choking back tears, Kavanagh, who can't swim, said that what happened next was terrifying.

"I saw the boat sinking," he said. "Then it was just a matter of time. How much time? Like, how much time do we have? I nearly drowned a couple of times. I was on me face; I got off of me face. I was on me back. It was such a shock. I was taking a lot of water in me lungs."

Kavanagh, in his late 30s, said that as he flailed in two-metre waves, he thought about his two school-age children and his family.

"I was thinking on me kids and on me wife and everyone, right? And I was wondering if all the boys were all right. I saw different planes flying over me, and I started waving letting them know that I was alive. The planes gave me hope. I knew they knew we were there, but I thought, 'Where is the chopper to? Is she coming at all?' I thought.' I can't hold on much longer."

'I was nearly gone then'

After what he believes was more than two hours in the frigid water, Kavanagh said he almost blacked out. 

"I don't know if I dozed off, but I caught me self," he said. "That was the hypothermia setting in. I said 'I don't want to die.' I was getting comfortable once, but I knew that was the hypothermia setting in."

When the Cormorant helicopter arrived, Kavanagh said he could barely lift his hand to signal he was still alive.

"I was nearly gone then," he said. "I heard her first for a long time. The diver came down on the cable. He put a harness around me. I put me arm around his shoulder, and I hanged on for dear life. I thought I'm going to be saved, right? But I was nearly froze to death."

Next, he described the recovery of Robert Keough's body.

"We hauled him in the basket," Kavanagh said. "I didn't know if he was alive or dead. I said to him twice, 'Are you all right, buddy?' He never answered. I said to a chopper crew member, 'My buddy didn't make it, did he?' and he never answered me. I knew then. When we picked the skipper up next from a life raft, I told him 'Robert didn't make it.'"

About an hour later, they picked up a fourth fisherman who had drifted more than a kilometre away from where the boat sank, and they began looking for the fifth and last crew member.

"Everybody was freezing," Kavanagh said. "We looked and looked and looked. We couldn't find him. We circled. We went back, but all we could see was debris. We could not spot him, but time was running out."

Shrimp boat might have had too heavy a load

They flew until the Cormorant helicopter was close to burning off all of its fuel.

"We had to go in," Kavanagh said. "We didn't want to. We wanted to find him, but there were other boats looking. You could see boats coming from everywhere looking for us. We did everything, but be just couldn't find him. We all had to go to the hospital. We all had hypothermia."

The three surviving crew members were brought to a hospital in St. John's for treatment.

Monday evening, military and coast guard crews ended their search for the fifth fisherman.

Kavanagh cried again as he spoke about the loss of his friends.

"I hope they find his body for his wife and children and mother and father," he said. "For Robert, who's gone, I wish there was something I could do to bring the two of them back, but there's nothing I can do. They were me two best buddies. We always joked around."

Kavanagh said the crew was almost finished shrimp fishing for the season.

"We only had another two trips left, and then, we were finished then for the year," he said.

Kavanagh raised concerns that the Sea Gypsy might have sunk because it was carrying too heavy a load of shrimp.

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