Rescue workers on Monday freed the final crew member trapped inside a South Korean cargo vessel that flipped on its side off the coast of Georgia, the U.S. Coast Guard said.
Salvage crews gradually drilled an opening in the ship’s massive hull on Monday, first to deliver food and water to the survivors, then to extract them, the U.S. Coast Guard said.
The last missing crew member emerged from the hole at around 6 p.m. ET and was able to stand on the hull of the ship as rescue workers helped him, a USCG Twitter video showed.
The final crew member had been trapped behind a glass panel in the ship’s engineering control room and was the only one of the four who did not get any food and water when rescuers broke through the hull around 35 hours into their ordeal.
Temperatures for rescue workers on the outside of the ship rose to 120 fahrenheit and USCG Captain John Reed told reporters he believed it was even hotter inside the vessel.
Asked about the condition of the three crew members rescued earlier, Reed said two of them had been able to walk off the hull of the ship and get on a tugboat. All three were taken to the hospital. He declined to comment on what might have caused the vessel to tip over as it transported cars.
“Operations will now shift fully to environmental protection, removing the vessel and resuming commerce,” USCG tweeted.
Helicopters rescued 20 crew members from the 656-foot Golden Ray on Sunday after it became disabled, began listing and eventually fell helplessly on its side in St. Simons Sound, near Brunswick, Ga., the Coast Guard said in a statement.
The ship had previously called at the Port of Brunswick and was headed to Baltimore, according to the Vessel Finder website. The carrier was built in 2017 and was sailing under the flag of the Marshall Islands, it said.
Amid the initial chaos before sunrise Sunday, the Coast Guard was able to rescue 20 of the 24 people on board the Golden Ray.
But the fire on board, as well as the instability of the Golden Ray’s cargo, made conditions too risky for additional rescue missions until Monday.
Reed said the three crew members now extracted are receiving medical care and are in “relatively good” shape. They spent about 35 hours trapped amid temperatures that Reed said were “a lot hotter” than the 120-plus degrees teams experienced outside the vessel, which was smoking and had visible flames as rescuers arrived. Two were able to crawl out of the ship onto a boat, Reed said.
Authorities made the rescue after hearing “tapbacks” from the trapped crew throughout the night — signs of life that gave officials new motivation and helped them pinpoint the crew’s location on the large ship, according to Reed.
“Knowing that the people were alive made all the difference,” Reed said.
The South Koreans were in a propeller shaft room near the ship’s stern, Coast Guard Lt. Lloyd Heflin told the Associated Press.
Complicating matters was the lack of power to the ship and its maze of compartments and watertight doors, Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Luke Clayton told CNN. And a language barrier made it difficult for the initial rescue team to communicate with the trapped crew members, Heflin told AP. But Reed said Monday afternoon that an engineer was able to speak with them in Korean.
Reuters contributed to this report
Teams drilled a 2-by-3-feet hold in 3-inch increments and were able to pass food and fresh water to the three now rescued, according to the Coast Guard.
The crew member still on board has not gotten that same aid, Reed said. He is not sure how long it will take to get that person to safety.
Two of the crew members are in stable condition at Southeast Georgia Health System in Brunswick, hospital spokeswoman Jenni Morris told CNN.
Reed said authorities are still working to address ongoing threats to the environment and the Port of Brunswick near the overturned ship.
The 20 people initially evacuated from the ship — 19 crew members and a U.S. harbor pilot — were lifted from the tilting ship by helicopter and lowered into boats using fire hoses, officials told CNN.
The Golden Ray is owned by South Korean firm Hyundai Glovis, AP reported.
The National Transportation Safety Board said two of its investigators have been assigned to review the circumstances that led to the ship overturning.