Navy seaman blown overboard survives seven hours in the ocean

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SAN DIEGO -- A Navy seaman caught in the backdraft of a jet aboard the USS Constellation was swept into the ocean Saturday but survived seven hours in temperatures of 62 degrees before being rescued, authorities said.

Michael Harris of Dillsburg, Penn., was walking onto the flight deck of when he got caught in jet engine backdraft and was blown overboard, said Cmdr. Jacquie Yost, a spokeswoman for the Navy's Third Fleet.

"He was definitely in the water a good seven hours and he was very very lucky because the estimated survival time is roughly 4Y hours," said Yost. "He spoke to his mother once he got back to the ship."

Harris, 21, was not spotted until 7:20 a.m. even though the fleet immediately launched search-and-rescue helicopters and inflatable boats.

"Though they started the search immediately, you've got darkness out there, it was real dark," she said.

Harris, based out of Lemoore Naval Air Station, was wearing dungarees, a helmet and a float coat-life vest. Lemoore near Fresno is the same air station from which two F/A-18-F jets collided Friday leaving four pilots missing.

USS Constellation made a 180-degree turn, a required procedure when a seaman goes overboard, so the ship can be aligned in its same position, just in the opposite direction, for a better rescue, said Cmdr. Yost.

Helicopters from USS Constellation, USS Valley Forge and USS Kinkaid scoured the area.

Finally, Harris was spotted by USS Bunker Hill and picked up by a helicopter from USS Constellation.

The Constellation was located just off the coast of Southern California and has been conducting exercises before heading to the North Arabian Gulf region near Iraq, she said.

Harris was taken by helicopter to Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego. He was treated for dehydration but otherwise suffered no broken bones or serious injuries.


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