U.S. Coast Guard officials breathed a sigh of relief Monday afternoon after rescuing three of the four missing crewmen aboard the shipwrecked Golden Ray. Approximately two hours later, the fourth member was found alive and rescued from the ship.

Coast Guard search and rescue personnel reached the first three South Koreans rescued after cutting a roughly 3-foot hole in the ship’s hull near the propeller shaft at the stern. The ship has foundered with its right side sticking skyward since the incident occurred shortly after 1:30 a.m. Sunday.

In rescuing the first three members, two of the men were able to walk away on their own from the ordeal and the third was carried out by stretcher, said Capt. John Reed of the Coast Guard Sector Charleston, S.C. The three men were brought to the docks at Coast Guard Station Brunswick, where two of them were being driven away in a Glynn County Fire Department ambulance just as a 3 p.m. press conference began at the complex to announce their rescue. The third member, whose condition was less favorable, was taken shortly afterward in a subsequent ambulance trip, Glynn County Fire Department Division Chief Scott Cook said. All three were taken to Southeast Georgia Health System’s Brunswick hospital, Cook said.

After working for more than 30 hours to locate and rescue the men, Reed expressed the Coast Guard’s relief in bringing three of the four safely off the 656-foot ship.

“We have outstanding news to report,” he said, speaking to a packed room of international media that included CBS, CNN and Korean news outlets. “This afternoon three of the four survivors aboard the Golden Ray have been extracted from the space. The fourth survivor has been located, and it’s been an ongoing operation to try to get him out.”

That operation wrapped up when the fourth member was extricated at 5:50 p.m. Monday. Rescuing the last crew member aboard the Golden Ray represents some challenges, Reed said, as he was trapped behind a glass partition in an engineering room. Rescuers had not been able to get water, food or fresh air to him as they did for the three who rescued, Reed said at the 3:30 p.m. press conference.

Despite his ordeal, the fourth and final crewman was in fairly good condition, Coast Guard Brunswick Commander Justin Irwin said.

“He pretty much walked out on his own,” Irwin said.

All four are expected to be released from the hospital tomorrow, Irwin said.

Coast Guard rescuers first reached the four survivors inside the Golden Ray around midday Monday. Rescuers then drilled a hole about ¼ inch into the hull, then inserted a bore camera to make contact. They then drilled a larger 3-inch hole into the hull to deliver fresh, food and water, he said.

The four are the last of 24 crewmen who were aboard the 656-foot ship when it toppled over in the St. Simons Sound shortly after 1:30 a.m. Sunday. The ship was leaving the port of Brunswick with a load of automobiles when it began “listing heavily” to the right while turning right to head through the sound and into the open ocean. The ship then rolled over on its left side.

U.S. Coast Guard received a distress call at 2 a.m. and the ship was showing dark smoke and flames shortly afterward, Coast Guard officials said. Search and rescue crews managed to retrieve 20 of the crewmen, some via helicopter, within a short time after responding. But rescue efforts for the final four had to be suspended due to worsening conditions.

The flames and smoke eventually died out, but the Coast Guard was still trying to determine Sunday afternoon when it would be safe to resume the search. A member of the South Korean consulate who was attending a press conference Sunday afternoon confirmed that the four men still onboard are South Korean.

Coast Guard officials were making rudimentary contact with the four men Sunday night, responding to banging sounds from within the ship by banging on the hull to let the men know they were not forgotten, the Coast Guard said.

Coast Guard officials, along with state, local and private sector experts, went to work with high tech gear trying to pinpoint the location of the tapping from within the ship, Reed said.

“Technical specialist from around the world came together this morning, working closely with Coast Guard Air Station Savannah, Coast Guard Station Brunswick and Glynn County Fire Department to get out there and find where the tapping was coming from,” Reed said. “That has been going on throughout the night. We couldn’t be more proud of the team that we had here. And the Glynn County residents who have been very supportive of everything that has been going on.”

Locating them set the stage for the contact and subsequent rescue of all four men. An officer from the Golden Ray has served as interpreter during the rescue.

“They were subject to some very tough conditions over the last day and half,” Reed said

Now that the men have been rescued, the Coast Guard is shifting operations to environmental protection, removing the vessel safely and resuming commerce.

Coast Guard and other agencies are moving forward with plans to salvage the boat, prevent and offset pollution from the shipwreck and reopen shipping lanes through the St. Simons Sound, said commander Norm Witt, also of Coast Guard Sector Charleston. There were little details available on those plans at this stage.

“While this is only the first part of the Golden Ray incident, the threats to the environment, hazards to people and issues with the economy through the Port of Brunswick continue to be addressed by a unified command,” he said.

“The responsible party, the port and the state all are playing an active role. I am confident that they will continue to attack those threats with the same vigor that got to the point of finding these four survivors.”

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