Mayday call from burning cargo ship in New Jersey foils rescue effort for 2 firefighters


UNION, N.J. (AP) — The Grande Costa D’Avorio cargo ship was being loaded with 1,200 West Africa-bound cars in Port Newark last July when a deadly fire broke out. Thick black smoke limited visibility to about 3 feet, and the floor was so hot that the soles of one firefighter’s shoes began to peel off.

“We can’t find our way!” Newark Fire Captain Augusto “Augie” Acabaou yelled over his radio as he tried to bring the growing blaze under control. “we are lost!”

Those words touched off the frantic race to find Akaboo and fellow Newark Fire Department Capt. Wayne Brooks Jr., who had disintegrated in the heat, smoke and darkness — an effort that was marred by confusion, adrenaline, panic and a lack of personnel. Was suffering from. and equipment.

By 3 a.m. the next morning, Akabu and Brooks would be dead.

Now, the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board are among several agencies trying to determine not only what went wrong on the ship, but also what happened on the night of July 5, 2023. , but efforts are also being made to learn from it. This and prevent others from dying in similar situations in the future.

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Investigators, port employees and ship crew members testified at an investigative hearing this week new Jersey Which will continue till next week. This description is based on that testimony.

The fire broke out around 9 p.m. when a Jeep Wrangler being used to push mostly idling vehicles up the 12-level ship’s steep ramp caught fire, causing a port worker to crawl out the driver’s door and use a portable A rush was made to fire extinguishers which immediately proved inadequate. ,

The Newark Fire Department was first to respond to the fire. Approximately 45 minutes later, mutual aid assistance was requested by Newark fire dispatchers from two nearby fire departments, the North Hudson Regional Fire Department and the New Jersey Regional Fireboat Task Force.

But two minutes later, a deputy fire chief rescinded that request.

“They did not believe those resources were needed at that time,” fire fatality investigator Michael Richardson of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health testified Friday.

Under cross-examination from a port company lawyer, Richardson said the cancellation was made at a time when it was not clear whether the fire had spread beyond a few cars burning on top of the ship. The decision was an important one, Richardson said, especially as conditions worsened and many firefighters expressed concerns about not having enough personnel and oxygen tanks on scene.

At 11:13 pm, a renewed mutual aid call for help was issued, this time from firefighters in Elizabeth and Jersey City, adjacent to Newark.

Finding Akabou and Brooks was the top priority; Nothing was heard from any of them as Akabu repeated his desperate call for help a minute after his first call, when he repeated, “We are lost!”

Newark firefighters searched deck 10, where the fire had started, and found the first fire.

Akabu, who was unconscious and unresponsive, was standing upright, pinned so tightly between the two vehicles that no one could move him or the vehicles. The face plate of his breathing apparatus was partially dislocated. Rescue workers attached a replacement unit to it, and it had to be replaced several times.

It took 70 minutes to dislodge Akabou using a hydraulic rescue device known as the “jaws of life”.

Then began the grueling effort to get him away from the burning areas of the ship, up the stairs to the upper deck, and across its scorching-hot metal. They placed her in a horizontal rescue basket and used a ship-top crane to lower her to the dock at 12:45, more than two hours after her May Day call.

As this was happening, some of the rescue workers searching for Akabou and Brooks ran into trouble themselves. At least one of Elizabeth’s two firefighters issued a Mayday emergency call for assistance from a ladder where the missing firefighters were being searched.

Elizabeth was found by rescue workers and taken to safety. But Brooks was still missing.

Additional mutual aid from other departments, including New York City, was deployed in the search for him. Jersey City firefighters literally reached the end of their rope, crossing a 200-foot rescue line before turning back, not wanting to lose themselves in the smoke.

New York City firefighters took the lead, moving 75 feet from there. On the way someone found Brooks’ flashlight lying on the ground.

Soon, a shrill scream was heard: it was a personal space alarm that firefighters wear that activates when they remain motionless for more than a short period of time. The sounding led them at 2:09 a.m. to Brooks, lying on the floor near the ship’s pillar, unconscious and unresponsive. His helmet was found at some distance from him.

But his radio was never located, Richardson said, and the oxygen tank it was initially thought he was using was also missing. Investigators continue to investigate what happened to his tank; He said one item found in the debris was damaged to such an extent that it could not be identified by any specific firefighter.

An hour later, Brooks was also lowered onto the dock by crane. He and Akabu were declared dead at a nearby hospital.

X, formerly of Twitter, follow Wayne Parry at

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