Dennis Hale is the quintessential survivor.
“My mother died when I was born and I was shifted around quite a bit. I guess I was instilled with some kind of survivor instinct. I just keep going,” explained Hale, author of the autobiography Shipwrecked: Reflections of the Sole Survivor.
Forty-seven years ago Dennis joined 28 of his fellow crewmen on board the Daniel J. Morrell for their last run of the season. But Lake Huron had other plans, greeting them with twenty-five foot waves propelled by seventy mile an hour winds, compelling most of the men on board to jump into the icy abyss. Those who stayed on board to brave the storm were forced to find refuge in the form of life raft after the 603-foot steel freighter snapped in two.
“I watched three of my shipmates perish in front of my eyes. When you’re in a situation like that you don’t really care if you live or not. You just want the whole experience over with,” Hale lamented.
Dennis waited through the night alongside the frozen bodies his fallen friends watching the remains of the ship and his hopes of being rescued slowly slip away into the darkness.
“There were negative parts like shooting off the flares. They seemed to just go thirty feet in the air and then the wind grab them. The fact that the flare gun broke on me after firing two flares. Those are things I remember. And the cold, and the cold,” reiterated Hale. “My skin actually felt like a crust, but I could feel the blood pulsing through my veins.”
Forty hours after the Morrell went down, Hale was redeemed.
“I think prayer was a big reason I was saved, but I also think that not having clothing on was a big factor. I know with the other fellas I watched the clothing freeze on them. I’m sure that after being encapsulated in ice that it lowered their body temperatures. I was very grateful. I was very reverent that prayers had been answered. Although for about 24 years afterwards I wouldn’t talk about it,” noted Hale.
Because although his life was now safely aboard a ship, his mind had ventured outside of his body to be with the crew below.
“It was really kind of strange because I didn’t question any of it. I just accepted it. But I went down and got aboard the ship and it was just a beautiful reunion. I got inside the stern of the ship in the engine room and the 2nd Engineer told me that I had to go back. Just like that I was whipped out of the stern and back through the cloud I went through, and actually slammed back on the raft,” Hale remembered.
Hale wrestled with those thoughts for years. Not believing he should have survived.
“Then about five years ago, I went to a psychologist, a good friend of mine. We had two sessions a month for a year. That kind of got me over the hurdle. Writing the book itself was very cathartic for me, and I can deal with anything now,” remarked Hale.
Who would of thought that surviving wretched conditions and the sinking of a 5,000 ton bulk freighter would be the easy part compared to years worth of anguish? But now that Dennis has cleared his mind and written his story, he can spread his message and move on with his life.
“You have to hang on to your faith no matter what. Whatever you do just don’t give up. Just keep trying,” Hale concluded.