PORT FOURCHON, La. — Dwayne Lewis has a noticeable scar on his right pinky, a constant reminder of what happened to him April 13, the day the liftboat he was on, the Seacor Power, capsized in the Gulf of Mexico during severe weather.
“I now have a permanent pinky ring where the rope burnt me,” said Lewis.
That rope eventually slipped and Lewis, who can't swim, started drifting away from the boat. That’s when he started praying to his deceased mother, telling her he wasn’t ready to go see her.
“It’s something I never want to experience again,” said Lewis.
That experience started when Lewis says he was napping in his room on the ship, just after 3 p.m. Severe weather caused the boat to roll over, flipping his room sideways. Lewis says he tried breaking the window in his room with a steel-toed boot, but that didn’t work. Luckily, he says a mate, James Gracien from across the hall, found a fire extinguisher, which they used to bust the window. Lewis says he was wearing his personal life jacket, which for some reason didn’t have a light or whistle, and gave Gracien one of the life jackets from his room.
Lewis says Gracien told him they needed to get out, but Lewis was afraid to jump from the widow into the water below. Eventually he decided he had no choice.
“When I went to get out, a wave came and pushed me halfway back into the room, and then whenever the water was rushing out, it sucked me under; and then I came up and was like, ‘Oh my God, what the hell just happened here.'”
As he started to drift away, Lewis says he felt that rope brush against him, and held onto it as tightly as possible. At one point he says he saw a handful of other men who were still on the boat, but couldn’t make out what they were yelling.
“You’ve got waves blowing in your face, water blowing in your eyes. It’s kind of hard to make out what they were doing. Who it was, I have no idea,” said Lewis.
Lewis says he thought about his water survival training from years ago and tried not to panic, while waves continued to crash on top of him.
“At the same time you’re trying to divert your thoughts, but you’re begging God to calm the seas,” said Lewis.
Lewis says even if he knew how to swim, it likely wouldn’t have improved his odds of survival with the rough seas and poor visibility.
“I don’t think the best swimmer could have lasted very long in those seas,” said Lewis.
In the distance, he could see Coast Guard boats, but there was no way for him to get their attention.
“You can yell all you can but while you’re yelling you're swallowing water,” he said.
At one point, when two rescue boats stopped near Lewis, he thought he was saved. But those boats never saw him, and he was left stranded again.
It wasn’t until another boat, the M/V Mr. Lloyd showed up that he was spotted in the water.
“That’s when I knew I was going to be saved,” said Lewis. “Whenever the life ring was thrown at me, I caught it. The back of that boat went up 12 feet. You could see the propellers. Here I am going, ‘this boat is going to land on me, but I can’t let out of this life ring. No matter what happens I can’t let go of it.’”
After being rescued Lewis said he called his wife to let her know he survived.
Others never got that chance.
Lewis is one of only six survivors from that day. Six others were killed and seven are still missing, presumed killed in the shipwreck. Lewis says he knows three of the guys who are still missing.
“The other day I played one of the guys' messages he left me on my phone, just to hear his voice,” said Lewis.
About two weeks after, Lewis says he spoke with the federal investigators. According to the National Transportation Safety Board’s preliminary report, the Seacor Power left Port Fourchon at about 1:30 in the afternoon on April 13. Of the 19 people on board, nine were crew members, two were gallery staff and eight were offshore workers. The liftboat was headed to an oil rig east of the Mississippi Delta.
Lewis says he was there in a supervisory role for work that needed to be done.
At 7:02 a.m., a weather report was emailed to the liftboat forecasting afternoon winds of 10 to 14 miles per hour, with and three-foot seas. At about 3:30 p.m., a storm began to pass over while the liftboat was on open waters.
Other boats in the area reported heavy rain, high seas, and winds up to 92 miles per hour during the storm.
According to the report, because of low visibility and high winds, crew members started to lower the boat's legs to stabilize it. At the same time, a crew member attempted to turn the liftboat to face the wind.
None of those efforts were successful. The report indicates the liftboat officially capsized at about 3:41 p.m.
“I went outside at 3:05 and it was two to three foot seas and it was just starting to rain. According to the NTSB, the boat capsized at 3:41. That’s pretty quick,” said Lewis.
After nearly 15 years working offshore, Lewis isn’t sure if he’ll be able to return because of the PTSD he is now experiencing.
“It was a very traumatic event and with what my wife and children went through, there’s no way,” said Lewis.
Eyewitness News interviewed Lewis Tuesday at his attorney’s office in New Orleans, a week after he filed a federal lawsuit against the Power's owner, Seacor Marine, and the maker of the boat, Semco, LLC.
The lawsuit claims Seacor acted with “flagrant, reckless disregard for his life and safety” by sending out the liftboat on April 13.
Lewis' lawsuit is the latest of several filed against Seacor over the tragic capsizing of the Seacor Power.
The company maintains that it was Captain David Ledet, a liftboat veteran with decades of experience piloting large watercraft, who had the final say on whether to set out that afternoon. Ledet's widow, who also filed a lawsuit after her husband's body was recovered, says Seacor ordered him out of port.