Two fathers pulled out from the sinking vessel after the collision with a ferry on Monday night separately pleaded with fireman Wong Tsz-kiu to save their daughters.
Wong rescued one, but he was only able to retrieve the limp body of the other eight-year-old girl inside the dark cabin.
“I remember it very clearly – I pulled her out of the water unconscious and performed CPR on her hoping to resuscitate her,” said Wong, who was the first to arrive at the scene with two of his colleagues just before 9pm. “Then I handed her over to the paramedics in the main boat, and they told me she was gone. Only then did I cry.”
Wong, who has 13 years’ experience as a fireman, recounted the horrors, but also the bravery that night.
“We got there, and the boat was already jutting straight out of the water,” said Wong.
His team immediately broke open a window on the right side of the boat and started pulling people out. The three on Wong’s team pulled out about 30 people from the cabin before moving on to other rescue work.
Wong recalled pulling out the final three people whose heads were face down in the water – an elderly woman, an adult and the eight-year-old girl.
“I couldn’t save any of them,” he said.
The scene was chaotic, said another fireman Hui Ka-chun, who was with the diving team and arrived at the scene shortly after.
“It was pitch dark inside the cabin,” said Hui, as he pulled three people out of the cabin before divers went in to look for more underwater.
Hui remembered rescuing a man holding two little girls, who survived. “They were not his daughters, but he held on to them,” said Hui, who was touched by such heroic actions.
Sergeant Lee Wai-him from the inshore patrol sub-unit of the marine police said: “The cabin was filled up with water and every inch there was someone. I don’t know how many more were there underwater.”
Lee and two colleagues were injured during the rescue. Lee was hit on the head by an iron ladder, while his colleagues remain in hospital after one shattered a knee-cap and the other sustaining spinal injuries from falling debris.
But none of them stopped in their efforts to rescue survivors until the last person they could see was taken out of the water.
“That night, none of us could sleep. The terrible scenes kept replaying in my head,” said Lee, who added that the only thing that kept them going that night were the encouragement and support from teammates and the survivors they had rescued.
“Most of us are still recuperating emotionally from the experience, but after 15 years of being a fireman, I’m proud to be a member of this team,” said Hui.