(KLFY) — Capt. David Ledet’s body was the first found after a lift boat he was piloting capsized in the Gulf of Mexico in April of 2021. In the following days, five more bodies were pulled from the water. Seven more — never found, but presumed dead. Of the 19 crewmen aboard the Seacor Power on April 13, 2021, only six came home after heading out to sea for a job on an oil rig they never reached.
The oil and gas industry is a big business in Louisiana. Thousands of people work offshore on oil rigs for days or weeks at a time, extracting mineral resources from the seabed. Lift boats often service those rigs for upkeep, construction, or for delivery of materials.
The Seacor Power was contracted by Talos Energy, an oil and gas producer, to bring men and cargo to an oil well in the Gulf of Mexico to clean it before use. The lift boat and its 19 crewmen set out to sea on choppy waters.
The boat made it a short distance off the Louisiana coast — about eight miles away from Port Fourchon — before capsizing because of a severe weather pattern called a wake low, which caused 70-80 mph winds and very rough seas.
Weather and its effect on search and rescue operations
Throughout the day, severe weather had been pummeling the Louisiana coast. Between 12:08 p.m. and 2:27 p.m., the National Weather Service (NWS) had issued three separate special marine warnings in the Seacor Power’s voyage area due to the weather. The NWS had warned of winds that had the potential to capsize the lift boat.
However, the United States Coast Guard (USCG) said they never received those alerts. They said that their internet connectivity with Verizon was faulty, and no weather alerts were sent to ships’ navigation systems between noon and 4:23 p.m. that day. The Coast Guard also said they were receiving misinformation about details surrounding the Seacor Power’s accident.
The first emergency radio beacon from the Seacor Power was triggered at 3:40 p.m., but no location was triggered at first. Sector 8 USCG watch commander Brandon Critchfield called Seacor Dispatch to make sure it was not an accident. He was told the lift boat had not even left the dock.
A total of five emergency beacons were triggered in that same 15-minute window from various other vessels, so the Coast Guard directed their attention elsewhere and asked Seacor Marine to call them back. Half an hour later, the truth of a capsized vessel came from reports, the location of the beacon, and a return call from Seacor Marine.
Search and rescue operations jumpstarted in the following minutes, but severe weather diverted planes in New Orleans and Mobile, Ala. USCG Grand Isle Station Coxswain Jessica Gill said she was notified of bodies in the water at 5:20 p.m. After efforts to reach the men on the ship, the Coast Guard had to pull back because of the severity of the weather, so that they wouldn’t lose any of their rescue crew after one fell in the water and then had to be retrieved.
Vermilion Parish native and Seacor Power survivor Dwayne Lewis remembered jumping out of bed when the Seacor Power began to roll from its front to its back. The ceiling and floor became walls as one wall became a floor beneath him.
Coast Guard officials said they were not given the correct information on how many people were aboard the Seacor Power. They were initially told there were seven crewmen, then 17, then 18. It wasn’t until the next morning that they learned the correct number of 19.
The Coast Guard ultimately made the decision to discontinue their search and rescue efforts for the Seacor Power crew on April 19, after putting over 175 hours into their efforts and covering 9,268 square nautical miles.
Grassroots search efforts
A Louisiana-based nonprofit, the United Cajun Navy (UCN), joined search efforts the day before the USCG suspended theirs. Volunteers from all over South Louisiana supported their efforts. Their assistance focused on fundraising for search efforts, organizing seaplanes, using social media platforms to get needed resources, gathering supplies, and coordinating search efforts, they said.
The UCN suspended search efforts on May 2 after being involved in the search for exactly two weeks. The organization said they typically are involved in similar searches for about two weeks and had discussed assisting in this case for longer, but ultimately stepped aside after “a whirlwind of accusations, untruths, and finger-pointing when efforts should still be concerned with bringing the remaining seven Seacor crewmen home,” they said in a detailed Facebook post about their drawback from the search.
A new nonprofit, Gulfcoast Humanitarian Efforts, was created by family members of Seacor Power crewmembers and volunteers to continue search efforts after the UCN suspended theirs.
Grassroots search efforts continued for some time, eventually fizzling out when money and resources ran dry.
The families’ push back
Families of the Seacor Power victims began seeking justice for their loved ones. Many of them filed wrongful death lawsuits. At least nine civil suits were filed relating to the incident. A family sued Seacor Marine, Talos Energy, and Semco, the lift boat manufacturer, claiming that the company put profits over the safety and lives of the crewmen. Plus, two of the six survivors filed suit after barely escaping the capsized boat, then drifting in the Gulf for hours before their rescue.
The families were also not satisfied with the communication, or lack thereof, they were receiving regarding search and rescue and salvage operations. In June, it was revealed the lift boat was still in the same place where it capsized. When severe weather hit the salvage area between May 18 and 25, it caused the wreckage to roll over and its legs to break off. Since the boat was no longer intact, it was exposed to wildlife and ocean currents, changing plans for salvage operations and searches for any more possible bodies. Family members said they were not told until weeks after, and many found out via social media that the boat rolled over. They were concerned that if there were bodies in that portion of the vessel, they’d get swept away by the current or buried, then never found.
Louisiana lawmakers said they understood the concern from families and began getting involved in ways they could, by requesting public investigative hearings and introducing bills. U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins even went to the accident site and was briefed by the Coast Guard weeks after the incident. The congressional hearings still haven’t happened, and the bills haven’t made any movement since their introduction.
The bills are companion bills that were introduced in Congress by Sen. John Kennedy and Rep. Higgins. The bill is called the Vessel Response Improvement Act, and it would require the companies of commercial vessels to give updates to the families two times a day during a search and rescue. The Coast Guard would be required to do the same. The bill is still in the first stage of the legislative process, and there’s only a 3% chance of it being enacted, according to Skopos Labs.
The possibility of closure, buried
Weather again disrupted salvage plans when Hurricane Ida hit the Gulf on Aug. 26. The trenches dug around the boat to extract it ended up completely filled by sediments stirred up by Ida. Scott Daspit, the father of still-missing crewman Dylan Daspit, told News 10 in October that Donjon-SMIT, the company in charge of salvage operations, moved on to salvaging boats damaged by Ida and left what remained of the Seacor Power where it was.
The Seacor Power was separated into multiple pieces. Some parts of the boat were taken out of the water, but the rest was buried by mud and sediment when Ida hit. After that, Seacor Marine decided to suspend salvage operations. The separated pieces described were the bow, the stern, and the accommodations. The piece that was buried in the Gulf was the living quarters, and it still remains there to this day. There are currently no plans for that part of the boat to be salvaged.
After a year, not much beyond what happened in the two weeks after the Seacor Power capsized has been accomplished. Families are still without answers about their lost loved ones, reform is yet to be made to prevent something similar from happening again, and the possibility of closure remains buried under the seafloor.