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N.Y. officers rappel from chopper to grab stowaway at sea

NEW YORK — A stowaway on a container ship entering the choppy waters of New York Harbor stabbed himself in the leg Friday in an effort to gain political asylum, then locked himself in a storeroom before being subdued by cops who rappelled from a helicopter, police said.

Alain Pombo Mungansa, 27, of the Congo — who was among several stowaways discovered on a ship from South Africa — was turned over to immigration agents of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security after receiving treatment for a badly bleeding wound to the left thigh, police said.

The daring high-seas apprehension came Friday morning after a police helicopter rescue team flew to the M.S. Sea-Clorinda several miles south of the city. The Panamanian-registered ship had been at sea for 19 days, police said.

Police Inspector Joseph Gallucci, commanding officer of the NYPD's aviation unit at Floyd Bennett Field, said the Coast Guard had asked for help in picking up the stowaway because rough seas and hazardous weather conditions made it difficult for them to respond to calls from the ship.

"They were unable to get resources to the ship and they asked if we could help," Gallucci said. He said the Coast Guard's closest helicopters were in Atlantic City, N.J., and Cape Cod, Mass.

On reaching the 727-foot-long ship, two Emergency Service Unit officers trained as medics, Lt. John Murphy and Detective John Busching, were lowered to the vessel. Gallucci said the two officers broke into a locked room where they found Mungansa holding a sharp instrument that resembled a screwdriver.

"He was bleeding pretty bad" from a wound that narrowly missed a major artery, Gallucci said.

"A few inches over and he could have killed himself," the inspector said. "He was seeking political asylum and wanted to be taken to a hospital. The officers talked him into dropping the weapon."

Murphy and Busching stopped the bleeding and helped Mungansa climb into a rescue basket. The four crew members on the hovering helicopter hoisted him inside and took him to Staten Island University Hospital for treatment.

The helicopter crew returned to the ship about 20 minutes later and picked up the two officers, Gallucci said. He said the ship docked and an unknown number of stowaways were being questioned Friday night by immigration agents.

"What made this rescue so dramatic was the conditions," Gallucci said. "The winds were gusting at 45 to 50 miles per hour. The guys did a tremendous job under extremely difficult conditions."


Distributed by the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service