Survivors tell of falling chairs, trapped passengers and flooding cabin on stricken ferry
Survivors say falling chairs trapped many people as water poured in
The 100-plus people on board the Lamma IV - employees and their families on an outing to see the National Day fireworks in Victoria Harbour - were making good time. No one had any inkling they would never make it.
Instead, barely 10 minutes after they had left Lamma Island, the vessel owned by Hongkong Electric would be struck by a ferry, causing its stern to sink. Many of their colleagues, friends and children would die or suffer serious injuries. Another company vessel headed for the same event was more fortunate as it was further away and was undamaged.
"It was happening so fast. We thought we would all die," said one woman, who was rescued with her husband, while their two children were still missing yesterday morning. The woman, who only identified herself as Mrs Chan, said it took no time before she was chin-deep in water.
"Everyone was trapped by something and was under water. As the vessel submerged, we were sliding to the bottom."
Rescuers were still searching for Chan's 10-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter.
The launch was carrying 124 people; at least 38 died.
Other survivors confirmed the woman's account, saying the launch started sinking less than two minutes after the crash. They said many people were thrown overboard from the open area at the stern of the ferry, while many others were trapped by falling chairs and other objects as water quickly flooded the cabin. Some experts believe the boat sank quickly because watertight compartments in the vessel's stern were breached and flooded in a short time.
Another woman survivor, who sat near the vessel's wheelhouse, said those at the stern were most exposed to danger.
"When the boat sank, they could have all fallen into the sea," she said. "The boat's tail started sinking first. There were seats in the open area, put there to allow people to watch the fireworks."
A fellow survivor, who was with her two sisters and a child, said water was up to her nose when she made her escape.
"My legs were trapped by something and I could not pull them out," she said. "Then my friend managed to release them, so I floated to the surface with a life jacket on. I swallowed a lot of sea water. I thought I would die."
She saw many others trapped inside the ferry and had no idea whether or not they survived.
But amid the chaos, there was also time for a hero, who not only saved his own family, but pulled two other women to safety.
The man lifted his daughter and son onto rescue boats immediately after the accident.
"I pushed open a window and got my child out of the boat," he said. "Then I passed him the life jacket … The boat was pointing up, vertically. All the seats fell off." The man then helped his daughter and two other women. But he lost sight of his wife. It was only after they reached the shore that he learned she was safe.
Many passengers suffered cuts and bruises when chairs fell on top of them.
A male passenger said he was lucky, despite being thrown into the sea. He said he managed to grab a life belt just before falling off the vessel and struggled hard to reach safety. However, he was upset about two children he knew who were missing.
Lamma resident Chris Head, 48, who was on board the Sea Smooth, the Hong Kong and Kowloon Ferry vessel bound from Central which struck the launch, watched the Lamma IV sinking.
"I was extremely shocked to learn that there were so many people on board [the Lamma IV]," he said.
"I would say that our ferry was going at full speed at the time of impact. I have been travelling on these ferries for years and you know when they are travelling at full speed.''
Hongkong Electric said its vessel was certified to carry 200 passengers.