Skip to main content

Survivors recount chaos, horror of ferry collision

By Paul Armstrong, CNN
October 2, 2012 -- Updated 2356 GMT (0756 HKT)
  • 37 people drowned after ferries collide of Hong Kong's Lamma island
  • Survivors recall chaos, speed the passenger vessel sank in the water
  • One of the boats had been ferrying passengers to a fireworks display
  • Impact was like hitting a rock or a lighthouse, another passenger says

Hong Kong (CNN) -- What started off as an exciting boat trip to celebrate China's National Day in Hong Kong quickly turned into a nightmare for more than 100 passengers on board.

Local power company Hong Kong Electric had been ferrying a group of its employees and their families to watch an evening fireworks display in the city's Victoria Harbor when it collided with a ferry heading from Hong Kong Island to Lamma, one of 200 outlying islands in the territory.

Passengers on board the stricken vessel described how quickly the water rushed in.

"First it was up to here and then here. The water rose so quickly. We thought we were going to die for sure," one woman, who declined to be named, told CNN affiliate i-Cable.

Read more: Hong Kong's worst ferry disaster in decades

Deadly ferry crash investigation begins
Boats crash, dozens dead in Hong Kong
Dozens dead in ferry accident
Celebration turns tragic in Hong Kong
Mourners accompanied by Taoist priests take boats on Thursday, October 4, to go to the scene of the boat collision that killed 38 people off Lamma Island, near Hong Kong, on October 1. They throw paper offerings for the dead into the sea. Mourners accompanied by Taoist priests take boats on Thursday, October 4, to go to the scene of the boat collision that killed 38 people off Lamma Island, near Hong Kong, on October 1. They throw paper offerings for the dead into the sea.
Deadly Hong Kong ferry crash
Photos: Deadly Hong Kong ferry crash Photos: Deadly Hong Kong ferry crash

"Everyone was underwater. The boat overturned; everything came crashing down; the chair slid down."

Another woman recounted her terrifying ordeal trying to free herself from her seat as the boat sank.

"My leg was stuck, and I couldn't get it out. I thought I wouldn't be able to get it out, and I was going to die," she said.

"The water was suffocating me. My friend tugged with all her might and got my leg out. I was wearing a life jacket, so I floated up to the surface. I had swallowed a lot of water. I really thought I was going to die. Thinking about all those at the bottom who were stuck, they're not here anymore."

A male passenger described the chaos as the boat rolled violently.

"I opened the window and pushed a child out. I put a life jacket on him and pushed him out first," he told i-Cable. "At the time, it was very chaotic. The boat was completely standing straight up in the water. It was chaotic. All the tables and chairs were everywhere. It was like a slide; everything was sliding down."

The shocked survivor admitted he didn't know where his wife was.

Rescue services, quickly on the scene with boats and helicopters, managed to pluck more than 100 people from the water, though 28 were declared dead on the scene, while another nine died in hospital.

The boat was completely standing straight up in the water. It was chaotic.

The other vessel involved -- a regular passenger ferry -- managed to limp to the safety of the pier just a few hundred meters away on Lamma, southwest of Hong Kong Island.

Witnesses on board the ferry described the moment the two vessels collided.

"We suddenly heard a loud noise. Then the boat swung to one side, and we lost our balance," one man, named as Mr. Yip, told i-Cable. "People fell. They fell off their seats. They hit themselves. After a while, when everything calmed down, we saw we were almost at the pier, so we asked the captain if we could dock first.

"When we did so, our boat was flooded. The front of the ship had water in it, so people got nervous again."

Chris Head, a teacher from Lamma, said the ferry went from what felt like full speed to "an abrupt halt." He said he thought they'd hit "a rock or a lighthouse."

Meanwhile, rescuers continued their search for survivors off Lamma on Tuesday morning in full view of commuters as ferries resumed their services to the main islands to the north.

Were you there? Share your stories, images and videos.

CNN's Jane Sit contributed to this report.

Part of complete coverage on
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1526 GMT (2326 HKT)
Advocates say the exam includes unnecessarily invasive and irrelevant procedures -- like a so-called "two finger" test.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0009 GMT (0809 HKT)
Supplies of food, clothing and fuel are running short in Damascus and people are going hungry as the civil war drags on.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1801 GMT (0201 HKT)
Supporters of Richard III want a reconstruction of his head to bring a human aspect to a leader portrayed as a murderous villain.
February 5, 2013 -- Updated 1548 GMT (2348 HKT)
Robert Fowler spent 130 days held hostage by the same al Qaeda group that was behind the Algeria massacre. He shares his experience.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0507 GMT (1307 HKT)
As "We are the World" plays, a video shows what looks like a nuclear attack on the U.S. Jim Clancy reports on a bizarre video from North Korea.
The relationship is, once again, cold enough to make Obama's much-trumpeted "reset" in Russian-U.S. relations seem thoroughly off the rails.
Ten years on, what do you think the Iraq war has changed in you, and in your country? Send us your thoughts and experiences.
February 5, 2013 -- Updated 1215 GMT (2015 HKT)
Musician Daniela Mercury has sold more than 12 million albums worldwide over a career span of nearly 30 years.
Photojournalist Alison Wright travelled the world to capture its many faces in her latest book, "Face to Face: Portraits of the Human Spirit."
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0006 GMT (0806 HKT)
Europol claims 380 soccer matches, including top level ones, were fixed - as the scandal widens, CNN's Dan Rivers looks at how it's done.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
That galaxy far, far away is apparently bigger than first thought. The "Star Wars" franchise will get two spinoff movies, Disney announced.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 2327 GMT (0727 HKT)
It's an essential part of any trip, an activity we all take part in. Yet almost none of us are any good at it. Souvenir buying is too often an obligatory slog.