Chinese hero of Thai boat tragedy marries his sweetheart and fellow survivor

  • Engaged couple were holidaying in Phuket when their boat capsized
  • He spent 15 hours in the water and saved the life of a crewmen
PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 October, 2018, 7:25pm
UPDATED : Friday, 19 October, 2018, 8:30pm

A Chinese hero of Thailand’s worst tourist-related disaster in years has married his sweetheart in central China three months after the fateful boat tragedy which could have separated them forever.

Zhang Haofeng, who helped save a crew member during the boat accident that killed 47 people, was rescued after floating in the sea for 15 hours.

Last weekend he married Meng Ying, who was also among the Chinese tourists on the boat that day, in a ceremony in Xinyang, Henan province.

They were holidaying on the resort island of Phuket in southern Thailand when they boarded the boat Serenita on July 5 which capsized in the same storm which sank another boat, Phoenix.

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The two boats had been carrying more than 100 tourists, mostly Chinese, when they sank amid torrential rain, powerful wind and huge waves. All passengers on Zhang’s boat survived, while 47 aboard Phoenix died.

Meng, who was separated from her fiancé during the chaos, managed to get into a lifeboat while 30-year-old Zhang jumped into the water in a life vest.

He became a national hero when it emerged he had helped save a Thai engineer from the vessel, before he was finally rescued by a fishing boat the next morning.

In an interview with the People’s Daily website People.cn, Zhang recalled that he had joined an elderly Chinese couple who were clinging to a paddle after he was forced into the sea.

When a lifeboat approached and threw them a rope, he caught it with one hand and clung to the paddle with the other, trying to bring the three of them to the boat. But a strong current swept him away from the couple.

Zhang did not make it to the boat but fortunately, he said, “someone threw me a float ball, a ball that kept me alive”.

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As darkness fell and he kept drifting in the water, Zhang met the Thai engineer from the same boat, also wearing a life vest and clinging to a float ball.

They kept each other company as they waited to be rescued. Zhang shared his float ball with the engineer, who appeared to be in his 50s, when the older man began to foam at the mouth, lowering his head and showing other signs of exhaustion.

“I kept speaking to him, telling him that rescuers would absolutely come, telling him not to fall asleep. After I said many words, he replied with one or two sentences, but at least I could be confident he was alive,” Zhang said.

Zhang and the crew member, whose name he never learned, survived in this manner until dawn, when he saw an island. They were swimming towards it when they were spotted by a fishing boat and finally pulled out of the water.

“I’m not a hero. I just gave a hand when I could. It was not as great [as people described],” he said later, to warm applause from the public.

Zhang also declined a reward of 100,000 yuan (US$14,400) for his bravery from his employer, a mining company in Xinyang where he was responsible for safety inspection, after returning to the city with Meng, as scheduled on July 7, just two days after the accident.