Bid to save trapped boy failed as boat sank

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 March, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 March, 1994, 12:00am

A 15-YEAR-OLD boy trapped in the hull of an overturned boat drowned after rescue efforts sank the vessel, the coroner's court heard yesterday.

Survivors of the tragedy testified that they knew Cheng Kin-shing was still alive after waves overturned their vessel because they heard him knocking on the bottom of the boat.

But water rushed into the vessel's last air pocket as a crane began turning the boat upright.

Cheng Wai-hung - master of the boat and the victim's cousin - said the vessel slid beneath the surface seconds after the crane pulled it up on to its side.

The converted fishing boat set out from Tsuen Wan on July 15 last year with about five tonnes of cargo lashed to its decks.

Cheng Wai-hung's sister, Cheng Mei-fong, 28, said she had voiced concerns about the weight of the cargo - two forklift trucks - when it was first brought on board.

But she told the court her worries dissipated when she checked the water line and found the boat riding fairly high.

She said the mild seas turned turbulent as the boat neared Stonecutters Island.

Then two catamarans and a hoverferry passed close by, catching the fishing boat in their wake.

For a moment, the fishing vessel rolled back and forth, riding the bloated waves and then it capsized.

Wai-hung was in the wheelhouse when the boat flipped.

Although the wheelhouse was submerged, the cabin below it was above the water's surface, and Mr Cheng was able to gulp trapped air and swim to safety.

After being picked up by a passing boat, he drew alongside his vessel's exposed underbelly and rapped on the metal surface.

''I heard several knocking sounds in response,'' Mr Cheng said.

His sister, who had been on deck when the waves hit, swam to the boat's underside. She too tapped on the hull and heard an answering knock.

Marine Police and Fire Services arrived within minutes, and Mr Cheng told them Wai-hung was imprisoned in the hull, the court heard.

But about an hour had elapsed before Royal Navy divers reached the scene. They dived in, but surfaced after a brief and fruitless search.

By then, a crane had arrived, and a wire was attached to the boat in an attempt to pull it upright.

The vessel had partially righted when it took in water and disappeared beneath the surface, Mr Cheng told the court.

The crane's operator, Chan Ming, estimated that the boat was submerged for about 30 minutes while operators attached two more lines.

It was then hauled above the surface, now upright, and Wai-hung's body was recovered.

Mr Chan said the decision to right the boat before lifting it out of the water - rather then simply hoisting it up bottom first - had been made because this was deemed less dangerous.

Mr Chan at first said he had been informed that someone was trapped inside the boat, but he later changed his testimony, saying he had not known.

The inquest continues.