Survivors give harrowing accounts of fatal collision

Updated: 2012-12-15 06:58

By Timothy Chui (HK Edition)

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Survivors give harrowing accounts of fatal collision

Water rushed into the stricken vessel as the ferry pulled away from incident scene

The rapid inflow of sea water, which sunk the stricken passenger launch Lamma IV in less than five minutes, took place only after the second vessel in the deadly crash on Oct 1 extracted itself, a survivor of the disaster testified on Friday.

Recalling that he had been sitting on the portside of the top deck of the ill-fated Lamma IV, tractor trailer driver Wong Tai-wah testified that he saw the bow of the other ship, the Hong Kong and Kowloon Ferry's Sea Smooth, rapidly approaching at an acute angle just before the first of two massive quakes were felt on board.

About 30 seconds after the collision, Wong said, he felt the engine of the other vessel restart. Within seconds, seats were upended, passengers tossed out of their seats and the launch began taking on water rapidly.

With a life preserver in one hand and his wife holding the other, Wong helped his wife, who could not swim, go out through a shattered porthole and onto a police launch, after a rescuer chopped through the porthole. Airlifted to Pamela Youde Nethersole Hospital, Wong survived the ordeal but his wife died of her injuries.

Wong was testifying during the third day of a half-year commission of inquiry into the collision between the Hong Kong and Kowloon Ferry Company vessel, Sea Smooth, and the Hongkong Electric-operated launch Lamma IV. Thirty-nine people died in the collision, Hong Kong's worst maritime accident since 1971.

Immediately after the crash, the Lamma IV sank while the Sea Smooth carried on, docking at Lamma Island.

Wong attended a Hongkong Electric event prior to the collision with his wife at the invitation of one of the company's employees.

Wong, along with two other witnesses, testified that they boarded the ill-fated ship bound to Victoria Harbor, to view the National Day fireworks display after a power plant tour and early supper on Lamma Island.None of the witnesses noticed whether Lamma IV had sounded its horn prior to the crash.

Invitations to the company party were selected through a lucky number draw.

Hongkong Electric graduate trainee employee Lin Ka-wang went on the trip. His aunt and uncle were supposed to join him but at the last minute decided not to take Lamma IV to see the fireworks display.

Lin told the hearing that he was seated near the back of Lamma IV in the main cabin, surrounded by coworkers, one of whom was performing magic tricks for nearby passengers.

Lin testified he felt the launch rapidly decelerate before he closed his eyes for a few seconds to rest. He then felt a violent tremor and his limbs went numb. Able to see only in black and white in the moments after the crash, he found himself trapped, hearing a girlfriend of a coworker screaming her partner's name above the din. With the ferry's stern sinking fast, pitching the vessel into a vertical position and water level within the cabin rapidly rising, he eventually was able to free himself from a "heavy and hard" obstruction before swimming upwards eight rows to the main stairwell. Trapped, Lin and other survivors were extracted only after rescuers were able to shatter some of the cabin's windows. Two of Lin's close coworkers were not so lucky.

Passing in and out of consciousness, Lin eventually woke up at Queen Mary Hospital, suffering from lacerations to his head, crushed and fractured vertebrae and ribs, internal bleeding and pneumonia. He has yet to fully recover from his injuries and has not been to work since the incident.

Shipping company receptionist Chan Kin-yan testified that there was a sudden acceleration before the collision, which sent passengers tumbling to the floor. She said chairs, tables and belongings began to tumble in the cabin, pinning some passengers.

Chan said the captain of the ship appeared and told people to stay calm and wait for rescue. The skipper's command was barely audible over the shouts and screams, she testified, adding passengers in her section were trapped by locked windows. In all likelihood, they would have perished were it not for rescuers who were able to shatter windows to create exits, she testified. Chan, along with her three family members, survived the disaster.

tim@chinadailyhk.com

(HK Edition 12/15/2012 page1)