Bruised and bloodied passengers recalled their terror yesterday after a mystery accident involving a Macau-bound jetfoil that left 87 injured.
They told of a huge noise "like thunder" as they were thrown out of their seats, with one commenting: "It was like a racing car suddenly hitting a wall."
It was initially thought the vessel, Madeira, may have hit an unknown object in the water. But a spokesman for operator TurboJet said there was no immediately apparent damage to the hull.
A government source later said that as one of the two engines had broken down, it was possible that semi-submerged refuse had been sucked into the engine and jammed it.
Video: Dozens injured in Hong Kong high-speed ferry accident
The accident happened about 15 minutes after the 27-metre jetfoil carrying 105 passengers and 10 crew left the Hong Kong-Macau Ferry Terminal in Sheung Wan at 1am yesterday.
"It was like it suddenly got stuck, sank, bounced up and dropped down," injured mainland tourist Wang Rong said of the accident off Hei Ling Chau.
Wang was wearing a seatbelt but her nose slammed into the seat in front so hard that it bled "like water gushing out from a tap". She needed five stitches.
"I heard huge sounds, like thunder cracking three times. It was so loud my ears almost got hurt. Now I feel like the sounds are still roaring," she said.
Wang's friend Gong Wenzhong said the incident was like "a racing car hitting a wall". He had not fastened his seat belt and was thrown into the air.
"Many people in the boat flew up," he said. "When they fell, they crashed into many seats."
He was hurt slightly around his waist, but his wife, who had fastened her seat belt, lost a front tooth when her head hit the seat in front.
Their group of six, including one Hong Kong resident, had flown from Bangkok on Wednesday and planned to visit Macau for the day before heading back to the mainland. They were treated at Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital in Chai Wan. But when one of them required further observation, the hospital refused to admit her unless the group signed an agreement to pay the HK$47,000 non-resident's deposit.
The woman, who has kidney disease, was found with blood in her urine. But doctors said it was not clear if this was due to the accident. The dispute was solved when Turbojet agreed to cover the costs of their medical treatment and their stay in the city.
"I thought such things could only happen on the mainland," the Hong Kong member of the group, Ng Kam-chiu, said.
"Now I feel Hong Kong is becoming more like the mainland. This is too inhumane."
The vessel was towed back to the terminal, where the injured were picked up by 36 ambulances. The 54 men and 33 women, including nine crew, were treated at six public hospitals.
Two men aged 41 and 55 were in serious condition, 27 were stable and the rest were discharged.
TurboJet said the ferry's speed was normal at 38 to 40 knots.
A police officer said an air and sea search failed to find any object the jetfoil could have hit.
Captain Tony Yeung Pui-keung, manager of the Vocational Training Council's Maritime Services Training Institute, said it was difficult for skippers to spot floating objects at night.
The vessel was towed to a shipyard for further investigation by the Marine Department.
TurboJet said the vessel had had its annual check-up and maintenance last month. The skipper had 31 years of sailing experience and had been in his current position for five years with a good performance record.