Local heroes of ferry disaster speak of horrors

TWO Pelican Waters women have emerged as the heroes of a dramatic ferry sinking in Thailand that unfolded like a Hollywood disaster movie, complete with screaming children and people shouting mobile-phone goodbyes to loved ones.

Sonia Fry and Rebecca Clark were among about 120 tourist passengers on the Puean Foong II, a ferry sailing to Phuket on May 28.

It was the seventh day of their 10-day trip to Phuket, and they were returning from snorkelling and sightseeing on a three-island day trip.

Suddenly, a ferocious storm hit with pounding three-metre waves, which cracked a hole in the hull, triggering chaos and panic among the passengers.

FERRY: The vessel which almost sank near Phuket.
FERRY: The vessel which almost sank near Phuket.

THE young male boat hands bucketed out water from the boat while the captain attempted to steer, but no-one attended to the passenger group, which included families with babies. No announcements were made over the ship's PA.

"The life jackets were all tied on the side of the boat, but no one felt brave enough to grab them because you had to go down the side of the boat in these rough seas," Ms Fry said.

"But Bec went down the side and undid all the life jackets. She gave me mine first, and it was pulled out of my hands.

"That surprised me, I thought you only saw that sort of thing in a movie.

"Bec untied all the life jackets and passed them to other people.

"It was quite horrific and I have never seen panic like it.

"The boat was rocking and the captain would yell out 'everybody to the left' or right, otherwise the boat would tip over...that was constant to keep it afloat.

"People were kissing each other goodbye, there were four babies on the ship and they were all crying and screaming as they were sprayed with water...people were drenched and vomiting.

"One family I was trying to calm were tying life jackets to their children's jackets, but they were really distraught because they knew the babies would just slip away in the water. I told them I would be there to hang onto their baby.

"There was a lady on her phone screaming goodbye to her family and screaming to the police. Another woman had heart problems, so we were running around looking for aspirin.

"I just kept saying 'we're not going to sink, everyone will be okay, this is just a boat going down, someone will come and get us'."

A boat did indeed come and get them, but only under orders from the Thai water police, as they had to go out of their way.

The Puean Foong was three-quarters underwater by the time the second boat had lined up to take on the stricken passengers, now standing in waist-deep water.

One man can be seen in a YouTube video of the drama describing how pieces of the boat floor came flying off.

As the incident happened closer to Phi Phi island than Phuket, the 120 battered passengers had to sail through the same storm and return to Phi Phi, where they were offered just five t-shirts, some water and muffins.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect to this story is the astonishing presence of mind of these two friends.

"As much as it was frightening, we look at it as an experience," Ms Fry said.

"We are both trainers and I am a marriage celebrant, so it's all about finding the positive in everything.

"The shock set in the next day and there were a few tears and sadness at the reality of what could have happened.

"We feel we are very lucky to be alive, we do feel like every day is a bonus. We appreciate every day, because we were so close to death."

Ms Fry said she would never again go on a boat there.

WATCH ONLINE

A video taken at the time of the rescue is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UyhPsHWo9mk

Comments below the video include Nitin Shimpi saying "I was there with my wifeÿ & 3 yr. kid... it was a horrible experience.. thank god we saved by passing big boat" and arbali2001 saying "I was one ofÿ the survival...trauma trauma trauma" (sic).



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