JEKYLL ISLAND, Ga. (AP) — Coast Guard rescuers pulled all four remaining crew members from inside a capsized cargo ship Monday.
All four South Koreans were found alive more than a day after the vessel overturned while leaving a port on the Georgia coast. The fourth was found several tense hours after the first three; he was on a different deck of the boat.
The Golden Ray, a giant ship that carries automobiles, rolled onto its side early Sunday as it was leaving Brunswick, bound for Baltimore. In the hours immediately after the accident, the Coast Guard lifted 20 crew members into helicopters before determining that smoke and flames and unstable cargo made it too risky to venture further inside the vessel.
Officials were also concerned about the stability of the ship, which was carrying 4,000 vehicles, some of which may have broken loose.
That left responders looking for the remaining four crew members. At first, Coast Guard Capt. John Reed said, rescuers were not sure whether the noises they were hearing inside were some of the vehicles crashing around. But by dawn Monday, they had grown confident that the taps were responses to their own taps.
"It was outstanding when I heard the news this morning that we had taps back throughout the night," Reed said, saying it helped lead rescuers to the right place on the 656-foot vessel.
"They were charged up knowing the people were alive," Reed said.
On Monday morning, rescuers rappelled down the hull. Lt. Lloyd Heflin, who was coordinating the search, said they found three men in a room close to the propeller shaft, near the bottom of the stern. Responders began drilling, starting with a 3-inch hole.
Coast Guard officials brought the ship's chief engineer, who was rescued Sunday, out to the ship to translate, and found the three men were "on board and OK," as Heflin put it.
Reed said rescuers passed food and water through the hole to the men. The opening also provided fresh air to the propeller room, which Reed said was even hotter than outside, where the high was 93 degrees.
Responders set up a tent on the hull and began drilling additional holes, eventually making an opening large enough to insert a ladder and help the men climb out.
"It was like connect-the dots," Reed said of the hole, which grew to 2 feet by 3 feet.
The fourth man was rescued from the ship's engineering compartment The Golden Ray is now stuck in the shipping channel, closing one of the busiest U.S. seaports for shipping automobiles. One ship is unable to leave port and four more are lined up outside waiting to come in, according to ship-tracking website Marine Traffic.
The cause of the capsizing remains under investigation. The Marine Traffic project said the Golden Ray overturned as it was passed by another car carrier entering St. Simons Sound.
Many of those rescued were taken to the International Seafarers' Center in Brunswick. Sailors arrived with only what they were wearing when rescued.
A restaurant donated a meal, and the volunteer-run center provided the seamen with clothes, toiletries and Bibles. A priest said Mass for the sailors Sunday afternoon before they were taken to a hotel.
"They were all in relatively good spirits," said the center's executive director, Vicki West. "We just do anything we can to be their little respite in the storm."