RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The U.S. Coast Guard has pulled off a dramatic rescue in the waters off southeast Georgia, where a massive cargo ship capsized early Sunday. The rescue came to a close last night with all 24 passengers and crew safe on shore. But as NPR's Colin Dwyer reports, this happy ending has been far from certain.
COLIN DWYER, BYLINE: The call came in from Brunswick, Ga., around 2 a.m. Sunday.
(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE RINGING)
UNIDENTIFIED 911 DISPATCHER: Nine-one-one. Where's your emergency?
DWYER: Bystanders on a nearby pier told 911 dispatchers what they'd just seen.
UNIDENTIFIED 911 CALLER: The cargo ship just flipped over in the channel. I'm standing on St. Simons Pier. Like, literally, the cargo ship that carries the cars, if you live in Brunswick, just flipped over.
DWYER: The Golden Ray, a 650-foot car carrier had been carrying thousands of vehicles when it began listing heavily. Before long, the ship flipped onto its side and the rescue was on.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED COAST GUARD OFFICER #1: See the survivors just outside the cabin door?
UNIDENTIFIED COAST GUARD OFFICER #2: Roger that.
DWYER: Coast Guard officers manage to get 20 people off the capsized ship before dawn Sunday, but a fire forced a pause with four crew members still trapped inside. The Coast Guard had to cut through the hull to get to them. But eventually, after more than 30 hours, the remaining crew members made it out alive. A video released by the Coast Guard shows the final crew member to be rescued - shirtless, looking dazed in a crowd of orange-vested rescue workers.
Nearby, John Reed, the captain in charge of the operation, shouts his joy over the noisy scene.
(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)
JOHN REED: That is amazing - the best day of my career because you guys did that.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Thank you, sir.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Thank you, guys.
DWYER: For now, none of the crew members' names has been released. Reed said that several were hospitalized but that all of them are doing remarkably well after the ordeal. That said, authorities still have plenty of work ahead of them. Now they've got to remove the ship from a busy harbor without leaving too much pollution. And they've got to figure out just what caused the wreck in the first place.
Colin Dwyer, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.