Dateline   |  April 14, 2014

Capsized, part 6

A U.S. Coast Guard emergency kit is retrieved by the crew of the James Robert Hanssen. Soon, families will learn who lived or died.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> reporter: a coast guard plane had just dropped a second radio to the crew of the capsized " james robert hanssen ," and this time the survivors made contact. mission coordinator greg spooner got the call from the coast guard . and it was the best news possible. the rowers, all of them, were alive. after all the agony, it seemed like a miracle.

>> and all four were confirmed alive and well . just a little beaten up.

>> reporter: wow. the moment must have felt pretty damn good.

>> it was huge. i just spent the entire day wondering whose parent or whose spouse i'm going to have to tell terrible news to. and all of a sudden it was gone.

>> reporter: to get the word out as fast as possible, he texted the families.

>> and it said all four alive and well . coast guard circling.

>> reporter: and once that text went out, greg called adam 's wife, rebecca, overcome with joy.

>> i was, like, yeah, obviously it was the best call, you know, that you could ever -- yeah.

>> reporter: talk about emotions flipping on their head.

>> yeah. oh, it was a crazy day. like i have never experienced anything like this roller coaster .

>> reporter: a roller coaster ride none of them would ever forget, especially adam kreek , markus pukonen, patrick fleming , and the captain, jordan hanssen.

>> what happened was what happened.

>> reporter: and here you are.

>> and here i am.

>> reporter: and able to tell the tale.

>> i don't want to say that i've seen it all. i think that's a dangerous thing to say with the ocean, but we'd definitely taken the boat through its paces.

>> reporter: they'd been about three-quarters of the way across the atlantic, they said, miami about 900 miles to the west. the last night was routine. and then just about sunrise saturday, april 6th , the waves grew larger. but it was nothing they hadn't gone through before. the rowers were just doing a shift change so the hatches were open.

>> and then a bunch of things started happening at once. i see two waves. they look different.

>> reporter: two waves that seem to come out of nowhere. they were oddly shaped, said jordan , several feet high.

>> they're very close together.

>> reporter: the first wave hit them and pushed their 29-foot boat almost completely under water.

>> and that's when the second wave hits.

>> reporter: jordan and markus were above deck.

>> and then a second later i'm thrown in the ocean. and plop back up and the boat's overturned, and i see jordan on the other side of the boat and i know that adam and pat are in that cabin trying to get out.

>> reporter: adam and patrick were trapped below deck. seconds earlier, adam had jumped up from bed.

>> we're in the cabin when we hear this wave trgoing over it. it has this ominous sound.

>> reporter: seconds later the tiny cabin was already flooding.

>> and so you're in a 4 foot by 8 foot by 4 foot space rapidly filling with water. your lungs are out of air and you're wondering is this --

>> reporter: is this it?

>> am i going to make it?

>> i look up and there's a pocket of air in the cabin. so i pop up and i take another breath, and i take another breath, and i dive down and there's this blue light and i pop up, and then i see pat's on top of the boat and i scramble up on top of the boat. markus is in the water. jordan 's in the water. jordan is yelling everybody up.

>> reporter: the crew in the roiling seas. they each activated their emergency beacons . their attempt to be the first crew was obviously ending in disaster. their boat, which was designed to right itself, had capsized. they deployed their life raft but for nearly three hours they struggled in vain to right the " james robert hanssen ." jordan wouldn't give up on the boat named for his late father.

>> and jordan kind of lets out this, you know, sigh under his breath and he's, like, come on, dad. and your heart just kind of goes, oh, right?

>> reporter: and then they drifted in the high seas , hoping rescuers received their distress beacon. in fact, they did. even now, a year later, it's still unclear why at first there were reports of just three beacons. while out there waiting for help, adam , the proud canadian, found his thoughts wandering back to the olympics.

>> and the -- you know, the americans had their chant, usa , usa ! the rest of the world finds it incredibly annoying. and we were telling these stories and we were laughing. and markus and myself were the canadians and jordan and pat are the americans. and all of a sudden the coast guard shows up, and pat -- this is -- like tears were coming into his eyes and he was saying, we're going to be okay! and markus and i look at each other and the u.s. coast guard and we're like, usa , usa , usa !

>> reporter: their life raft was partially covered by a tarp so the coast guard fliers could only see two of the rowers. and when that plane dropped the first emergency barrel, the rowers didn't open it. why? it was so big they were afraid it would puncture their life raft and its contents labeled emergency supplies didn't say anything about a radio.

>> we think, well this has, you know, nothing that we immediately need so let's just tie it up to the boat.

>> reporter: not knowing the grief that decision caused their friends and families. it wasn't until hours late they're the second plane could drop another barrel and an unmistakable message.

>> it's got "open me" written all over it.

>> reporter: open me.

>> yeah, like six times. and we bring it over and it has a much more comprehensive list including the vhf radio . and we said oh, gi esz the first one did have a vhf radio . we started talking to the coast guard .

>> reporter: the coast guard had already asked nearby ships to help. rowers were picked up by a panamanian freighter and by the next evening arrived in puerto rico . greg spooner had raced down to meet them, as did their families. and to be sure, patrick 's mother was lined up right at the dock.

>> the moms are going on the next one.

>> reporter: and then this happened.

>> oh! oh my god.

>> wait a minute. he's safe. he's back. where is he? no, this can't be happening.

>> right back in the water.

>> patrick lost his glasses and maybe a little dignity but he was okay and finally in his mother's arms. he seemed no worse for wear than the night he finally arrived.

>> we did a lot of what he hoped to do, and when things went wrong and we had, you know, some bad luck , all our planning for all that bad stuff came into action and we were able to come out of the ocean within 12 hours.

>> reporter: all the rowers were okay, very healthy, but they were also desperate to find all that video and data they'd recorded aboard the " james robert hanssen ." and after days of searching by air and studying drift patterns, inkreldably, against all odds, really, the craft was found. it was hooked up to a tugboat and brought back to dry land where, after weeks of effort, all their experiments and most of their videos were salvaged as well. jordan and markus told us they were ready to go on another expedition. patrick plans to stay on land for the time being . and back at home in british columbia , adam and rebecca are the parents of jefferson and a new baby girl named victoria.

>> there's something just very pleasurable about living a picket-fence existence. right?

>> reporter: what, no more ocean rowing for you?

>> no more -- i don't think it would be fair to my children to die.

>> reporter: the " james robert hanssen " is now undergoing repair at a seattle shipyard supervised by its grateful and living skipper. the ocean almost never gives back what it claims. but this time?

>> we were really lucky. there is no fairness with the sea. it doesn't have to give back anything. but we tried and in this case it did.