The Sinking of the Happy Hour: 3 Days Adrift in the Gulf of Mexico

October 17, 2022Noelle Wiehe
Happy Hour

Aviation Survival Technician 2nd Class Keegan O’Leary and Aviation Maintenance Technician 2nd Class Hunter Simpson fly two boaters lost at sea for three days Oct. 11, 2022. US Coast Guard photo.

The two boaters had hoped to catch snapper in their 36-foot vessel, Happy Hour, but they’d been drifting in a life raft for three days.

On Saturday, Oct. 8, they’d awakened to a boat flooding with seawater and realized they’d have to abandon ship. There wasn’t even time to trip Happy Hour’s Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon.

“They said that the vessel when it capsized, it capsized so quickly that they didn’t have time to grab the radio or the EPIRB that they did have on the vessel,” Aviation Survival Technician 2nd Class Keegan O’Leary, a 24-year-old elite rescue swimmer, told Coffee or Die Magazine.

The two men were 63 nautical miles off Alabama’s Dauphin Island, carried by Gulf of Mexico currents, and counted several cans of water, some food, a fishing kit, and six flares.

Three Days at Sea 3

Coast Guard Air Station New Orleans MH-60T Jayhawk aircrew lands safely at the Pensacola Regional Airport on Oct. 11, 2022. The Coast Guard airlifted two boaters after their boat took on water. US Coast Guard photo.

They fired off some of the flares Saturday night, and they were spotted and reported to US Coast Guard watchstanders in Louisiana.

But an MH-60T Jayhawk helicopter aircrew from New Orleans that scrambled to investigate them never arrived. It was diverted to medevac two survivors of a grisly shipwreck along the jetties near the Plaquemines Parish hamlet of Empire.

The two mariners tried to catch something to eat, but they got no nibbles. By dawn on Tuesday, they’d expended five of the flares. One left.

Then they saw a boat in the distance. Their last flare arced into the sky.

Three Days at Sea

Aviation Survival Technician 2nd Class Keegan O’Leary’s Coast Guard Air Station New Orleans MH-60T Jayhawk aircrew flies towards the commercial tug Linda Moran 63 miles from Dauphin Island, Alabama, Oct. 11, 2022. The Coast Guard airlifted two boaters after their boat took on water. US Coast Guard courtesy photo.

The crew of the commercial tug Linda Moran spotted it. They changed direction and churned to the raft, O’Leary told Coffee or Die.

They fed the men and gave them water. They gave them dry clothes to wear. At 11:57 a.m., they radioed US Coast Guard Sector Mobile that the pair needed medical care, too.

“They said they didn’t really sleep the entire ordeal, maybe a couple of hours here and there, but they were pretty much awake the entire time,” O’Leary said.

Watchstanders scrambled another MH-60T Jayhawk and ordered the cutter Jacob Poroo to rendezvous with Linda Moran’s crew.

Happy hour

The US Coast Guard cutter Jacob Poroo was commissioned on Friday, Dec. 8, 2017. The Sentinel-class fast response cutter is homeported in Pascagoula, Mississippi, but operates throughout the sea service's Eighth District. US Coast Guard photo.

O’Leary was hoisted nine stories down from the Jayhawk to the deck of the tug. That could’ve been tricky, but his crew — Lt. Jordan Fonville, Aviation Maintenance Technician 2nd Class Hunter Simpson, and Cmdr. Keith Blair, who doubles as the commanding officer of Air Station New Orleans — made it “easy.”

“There were a lot of things on deck, but there was some open room, and the crew I had was amazing,” O’Leary said.

The two mariners took turns riding up to the helicopter in a basket, and then O’Leary followed on a hook. They flew to Pensacola International Airport, where emergency medical responders were waiting for the handoff.

“They seemed to be in pretty good condition,” O’Leary said. “They were in great spirits when we picked them up. They were very excited to be going back home.”

Read Next: Meet the Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer Who Swam With Sharks

Noelle Wiehe
Noelle Wiehe

Noelle is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die through a fellowship from Military Veterans in Journalism. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and interned with the US Army Cadet Command. Noelle also worked as a civilian journalist covering several units, including the 75th Ranger Regiment on Fort Benning, before she joined the military as a public affairs specialist.

More from Coffee or Die Magazine
Coffee Or Die Photo
From the Team Room to Team Room Design: An Operator’s Creative Journey

BRCC partners with Team Room Design for an exclusive T-shirt release!

Coffee Or Die Photo
Get Your Viking On: The Exclusive 30 Sec Out BRCC Shirt Club Design

Thirty Seconds Out has partnered with BRCC for an exclusive shirt design invoking the God of Winter.

Grizzly Forge BRCC shirt
Limited Edition: Grizzly Forge Blades on an Awesome BRCC Shirt

Lucas O'Hara of Grizzly Forge has teamed up with BRCC for a badass, exclusive Shirt Club T-shirt design featuring his most popular knife and tiomahawk.

BRCC Limited Edition Josh Raulerson Blackbeard Skull Shirt
From Naval Service to Creative Canvas: BRCC Veteran Artist Josh Raulerson

Coffee or Die sits down with one of the graphic designers behind Black Rifle Coffee's signature look and vibe.

Medal of Honor is held up.
Biden Will Award Medal of Honor to Army Helicopter Pilot Who Rescued Soldiers in Vietnam Firefight

Biden will award the Medal of Honor to a Vietnam War Army helicopter pilot who risked his life to save a reconnaissance team from almost certain death.

dear jack mandaville
Dear Jack: Which Historic Battle Would You Want To Witness?

Ever wonder how much Jack Mandaville would f*ck sh*t up if he went back in time? The American Revolution didn't even see him coming.

west point time capsule
West Point Time Capsule Yields Centuries-Old Coins

A nearly 200-year-old West Point time capsule that at first appeared to yield little more than dust contains hidden treasure, the US Military Academy said.

  • About Us
  • Privacy Policy
  • Careers
Contact Us
Contact Us
© 2024 Coffee or Die Magazine. All Rights Reserved