Thirty bodies were recovered by police and firefighters in the wreckage of the Hongkong Electric launch Lamma IV on October 1 and 2 last year.
The commission of inquiry into the Lamma ferry disaster heard this yesterday as rescuers told of their desperate search at depths of more than 10 metres.
Bodies of 17 women, seven men and three boys were found by firemen and police found two women and a man after searching under water for more than 18 hours, the inquiry heard.
The Lamma IV collided with the ferry Sea Smooth as it carried passengers to view the National Day firework display, killing 39.
Firefighter Tam Kam-lun recalled how he almost sank under the weight of three unconscious people after he and colleagues decided to break the window of the sinking vessel to release trapped passengers, some of them without flotation aids. "Some of them had fear, anxiety and helplessness written all over their faces," he said.
He then retrieved two unconscious women and an unconscious man from the wreckage.
"As my life jacket could not support the weight of four adults at the same time, my body and head were already under water. I was in a dire situation," Tam said.
He had no choice but to hold the three bodies with one hand and discard his equipment with the other hand, treading water quickly to keep himself afloat.
Fire Services Department diver Kwong Chi-keung recalled how he retrieved the body of Edwin Hui Ka-wai about 13 metres under water.
"On the second row of seats from the stern, I touched a foot with a sock blocked by debris," he said. Kwong pulled the body out and began to ascend, but was trapped by obstacles. He asked colleagues on the sea surface to pull him up with the communication line, but it became detached from his face mask.
"I checked my cylinder content. There was 150 bars and the depth gauge showed 7.8 metres. I kept calm, as I knew I still had plenty of time," he said.
He refused help from a standby diver after he reconnected the line and was able to return to the surface by himself.
Commission Chairman Mr Justice Michael Lunn said the autopsy report showed that Hui died from injuries caused by severe crushing to his upper body with no sign of drowning.
Li Wing-mui, whose floating body was retrieved by divisional officer Chan Wai-ho, died from drowning, the commission heard.
Lunn also said the commission had collected evidence showing that Marine Department's notices on safety regulation during firework displays had been served on Hongkong Electric's marine section over a number of years, but had never been passed to the employee relations section, which organised boat trips to view fireworks.
The hearing continues today.