On a Pocket of Air and a Prayer: Laverne Herbert


Galveston, Texas, Oil Rigs ;Galveston, Texas, Oil Rigs

Galveston, Texas, Oil Rigs (Courtesy Library of Congress)

November 1983. Who knew it would ever come to this. Standing on top of a locker, surviving on an air pocket. How long would it last? Probably not long enough for whatever rescue that might be coming his way. A diver had already passed him once but missed him completely in all the debris. It was just a simple trip to bring supplies to an oil rig just off the coast. Sure the oil rig was in a little bit of trouble, it shifting and all, but still…Later it would be said that the master of the Laverne Herbert had been “coerced” into going out in bad weather. The statement could be neither refuted nor proved.

The Laverne Herbert left Port O’Connor, Texas on November 9 at about 4:30 PM. During the night disaster struck. A door that should have been closed was left open, flooding the engine room. Why the door was left open, no one knows, though there are a few valid theories. Had it been closed in time it was very probable that the vessel could have been saved, but, again, it is not known if anyone even knew that the door was open.

Sixty-feet underwater and living on valuable time. Ship’s cook Hayes Bonvillian Jr. had been asleep when the ship started taking on water. His other five crewmates were preparing to abandon ship after awaking him. Everything happened so fast that before he realized what had happened Bonvillian was in another stateroom. The ship was taking on water fast and escape at this point looked a little bit unfavorable. He stood atop a locker and lucky for him, the water stopped coming “just 60 centimeteres from the top”. And it was this position Bonvillian maintained for more than a day. A diver had passed by but in the dark of all the debris Bonvillian might as well have been a part of the locker. As the diver flickered out of sight Any chance of coming out alive seemed to go with him. The next day, Friday, the diver returned, better equipped. This time Bonvillian was ready. Hearing the diver approach he jerked out his leg and when the diver made contact he pulled it back. With a reassuring pat the diver left to fetch a diving suit for the cook.
Bonvillian soon returned to land where he was placed in a hospital. Despite health issues he would be found in stable condition.


Galveston, Texas, Oil Rigs (Courtesy Library of Congress)

No one knew what had happened to the rest of the crew of the Laverne Herbert. A liferaft was missing which provided a shred of hope to those waiting for news. Sadly none of the other five cremmen survived. One had been found but slipped beneath the water as a vessel tried to rescue him. A large search involving the USCG, USAF, USN and private vessels yielded no sign of the other four crewmen. The search was suspended about a week later.

Sources: The Day. November 17, 1983. Gasden Times. November 11, 1983. Ottawa Citizen. November 16, 1983. Marine Accident Report: Capsizing of the U.S. Offshore Supply Vessel Laverne Herbert, Gulf ofg Mexico, November 9-10, 1983. National Transportation Saftey Board. Septmber 27, 1984.