China ferry disaster survivor: Little warning

2015-06-02 17:04
Chinese soldiers ride aboard boats to the embarkment after their search and rescue operation near a capsized cruise ship on the Yangtze River in Jianli. (Andy Wong, AP)

Chinese soldiers ride aboard boats to the embarkment after their search and rescue operation near a capsized cruise ship on the Yangtze River in Jianli. (Andy Wong, AP)

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Beijing - The hundreds of passengers on a Chinese ferry that capsized during a storm had little warning before disaster struck, according to a state-media interview with a survivor.

Tour guide Zhang Hui "had 30 seconds to grab a life jacket," before the ship overturned in China's mighty Yangtze river during a storm on Monday night, the Xinhua news agency reported on Tuesday.

Many of the ship's more than 400 passengers had already taken to their beds for sleep as lightning streaked the sky and rain pounding against the ship seeped through windows and into their cabins.

They began taking soaked quilts and TV sets into the ship's hall around 21:20 (13:20 GMT) on Monday, Xinhua quoted Zhang as saying, in what appeared to be an attempt to keep the items dry.

Within minutes the ship's tossing rapidly became more violent, with the vessel tilting as much as 45 degrees, sending bottles rolling across tables, Zhang added.

‘Just hang in there a little longer’

The 43-year old and a colleague "grabbed everything they could reach and kept their heads above water" as the ship sank, Xinhua said. The ship reportedly went down in less than a minute.

"Looks like we are in trouble," Zhang recalled telling the colleague, seconds before the vessel overturned and sending him into the churning river.

Tossed around in wind and heavy rain, Zhang could not swim but survived an hours-long ordeal thanks to his life jacket, eventually drifting onto reeds and pulling himself to shore as dawn broke.
He was eventually discovered and taken to a hospital, Xinhua said.

"Just hang in there a little longer, I told myself," Zhang said.

More than a dozen people have been saved from the Dongfangzhixing, or "Eastern Star", which went down on the popular tourist route from the eastern city of Nanjing to the southwestern city of Chongqing, Xinhua said.

Voices going quiet

Six bodies have also been recovered from the wreckage, but hundreds more are still missing after the passenger ship apparently sank in a matter of seconds with 458 people on board, state media said.

The Xinhua account did not indicate whether the cruise ship's staff warned passengers of danger or told them to prepare for evacuation by putting on life jackets.

"Life jackets are accessible in all of the cruise's cabins. If it had not happened so fast, a lot of people could've been saved," a sobbing Zhang said, according to Xinhua.

It was not clear what happened to Zhang's colleague. Zhang said he first heard the cries of at least a dozen other people also struggling in the heavy waves.

But soon only a few voices remained, and about half an hour later they were silent, he recalled.

Read more on:    china  |  maritime

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