Hijack survivor recalls attack, shot by shot

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 February, 2011, 12:00am

A survivor of last year's hostage tragedy in Manila, who hid under her seat during the shootings on board a tour bus, yesterday gave a full account of the killings that claimed the lives of eight Hongkongers.

Lee Ying-chuen, 36, told the third day of the Hong Kong inquest into the killings that she heard continuous gunshots as the gunman walked down the aisle of the bus.

'I heard a steady 'bang', 'bang' 'bang' ... [They were] not rushed ... sounded calm ... one after the other,' she said, adding that it sounded as if the gunman took one step before firing each shot.

Lee was giving evidence at the inquest into the tragedy on August 23, when sacked police officer Rolando Mendoza hijacked a Hong Thai Travel tour bus outside Manila's Fort Santiago and held 21 Hong Kong tourists hostage.

'I heard Mr Leung scream 'Don't! don't!' as he leaped forward ... then I heard a gunshot and I saw him lying on the ground,' she said.

Lee was referring to Leung Kam-wing, 58, who was killed along with his daughters Doris Leung Chung-see, 21, and Jessie Leung Song-yi, 14.

His son, Jason Leung Song-xue, 18, suffered brain injuries and remains in hospital.

Recalling the incident in a calm and articulate manner, Lee said the gunman then walked closer to her as she hid under her seat.

Her mother, Lo Kam-fun, 66, who also survived the ordeal, was hiding under a seat across the aisle.

Lee could not remember the number of gunshots heard but said that 'there weren't too many'.

'I saw the gunman walk towards Jason's seat and I heard 'bang!' Lee said. 'Then he got to Chan Kwok-chu's seat ... [Chan] screamed out: 'Don't!' and almost at the same time, there was a bang.'

Chan, 46, survived the siege.

Mendoza turned around and headed to the front of the bus. Lee saw a body next to Leung Kam-wing's on the floor, but it was too dark and she could see only shadows.

From under her seat, Lee noticed that Jessie Leung, who was sitting in front of her, was moving her legs.

The gunshots stopped for a long time, Lee said. 'The only thing I could hear was rain hitting the roof of the bus. It was loud.'

But then Jessie Leung climbed over to Jason's seat across the aisle to check on her brother, Lee said. 'A gunshot was heard as soon as she poked her body out.' Jessie Leung's body was jerking on the floor. Lee heard a second gunshot and saw a spark in the dark.

After the earlier, orderly gunshots, a banging sound was heard and the gunshots were loud and 'messy'. Lee could not tell if the shooting came from inside or outside the bus.

'We were all quiet [and] too scared. Then smoke and tear gas came in.' The smoke made her and her mother cough. 'I was thinking: 'What exactly were the police doing? If we cough, the gunman will know that we're alive' ... I was very angry.

'[When the smoke came in] the second time, I thought that even if the gunman didn't shoot me dead and stray bullets from outside didn't kill me, I would still suffocate,' she said.

'It felt like the shootout would never end.'

Before the shooting began, Mendoza had appeared calm and apologetic for holding the group hostage.

Immediately after hijacking the bus in the morning, he released six hostages - three adults and three children. He also told the hostages they could leave at 3pm, the court heard.

He wore a dark blue T-shirt with 'POLICE' printed on the back under a camouflage jacket. He handcuffed driver Alberto Lubang to the wheel but they chatted and laughed as he instructed him to drive to Rizal Park.

At first the atmosphere was not frightening, Lee said. Tour guide Masa Tse Ting-chunn, 31, who was later killed, told her that it was a simple matter that would probably be dealt with in an hour or two.

Lee heard Mendoza speak broken English, using words like 'pension', 'dismiss', 'seven months' and 'co-operate'. He also made his hostages change seats on two occasions.

After the first swap, Li Tsui Kwan-fung, 66, complained of bowel problems and was released. The court heard in earlier testimony that she had been freed at around 10.30am.

The hostages were given takeaway meals. Around lunchtime, Mendoza yelled 'diabetic' twice. Li Yick-biu, 77, stood up. Lee said that she had wanted to take the opportunity to get her mother released. She yelled 'two diabetic', but the gunman insisted on releasing only one hostage. Lee said Mendoza was firm but not angry.

At 3pm, Lee overheard Mendoza say 'action' on the phone and she became nervous. Mendoza started to raise his voice and his tone sounded more urgent. At 4.15pm, Lee heard him say 'office hour' on the phone and she thought it was another deadline. Around sunset, and after a phone call, the gunman said: 'I lose my life, you lose your lives.'

Lee later heard the first gunshot. But Leung Kam-wing told her Mendoza had fired to scare people and that no one had been killed.

Lee and Leung Kam-wing chatted about subduing Mendoza. 'It won't be okay if the situation continues this way,' Lee said.

The inquest continues today.