Tuesday, August 02, 2005

SURVIVOR: Fiona and Simon

Posted By Fiona(02/08/2005 00:23:00)
Ao Nang, Krabi

Fiona posted this story on http://www.tsunamistories.net and it has been republished on www.phukettsunami.blogspot.com by Rick Von Feldt

Fiona's words:

I have only just found this website, and have been moved by everybody’s stories. I feel compelled to tell mine and Simon’s. I was working at the Bangkok office of my (London) firm at the time the Tsunami struck, and had been there since September 2004. My boyfriend, Simon, came over to see me on 14th December for a well deserved holiday, but because I was working long hours at the time, I didn’t really get to spend any time with him until 23rd December, the day we flew to Krabi for our Christmas holiday.

I never normally plan holidays, but this time, because I had been looking forward to seeing Simon so much, I had it all planned to the tee. We were staying in the Queens Bay Pavillion Hotel in Ao Nang, and I had been looking through the guide books for months working out what we could do while we were there. For the first few days of the holiday Si and I just sat by the hotel pool chilling out. On Christmas Eve the hotel had a special Christmas dinner do thing, and we both got quite drunk, waking up on Christmas day with quite bad hangovers. That evening I remember we sat on our balcony, which had a lovely view of the sea, and watched the sun set.

Si took loads of pictures on his new digital camera, and we both got quite excited about how nice they were going to look when we got home and developed them. Anyway, due to the hangovers, we decided to get an early night that night, and booked a trip sea kayaking around a lagoon in Ko Hong, an island about an hour away from Ao Nang, for boxing day morning. I will never forget waking up that morning. It was the first morning of the holiday where I actually felt like I was relaxing and winding down. It was a lovely day, and the first thing I did was to walk over to the balcony and have a quiet, solitary cigarette, watching the world wake up. Si and I were picked up by our tour company at 9am. They drove us in a minibus to Hat Nopparat Thara (the bay nearest to Ao Nang), where we got onto a longtail boat for our trip to Ko Hong. Apart from Simon and myself, there were two Thai tour guides, the Thai boat owner, a French man, a middle aged Thai woman, and a young Thai couple on the boat.

The scenery was beautiful, but I remember feeling quite unsafe as the water seemed to be quite choppy. At one point, after about 45 minutes, we stopped off to fish for our lunch and the Thai boat owner shouted at the blokes on the boat to stop leaning over the side quite so much, because the boat was tipping quite precariously. It was in fact so choppy that the Thai lady on the boat had to lie down on the bottom to stop herself from being sea sick. At this point the tour guide decided that we had had enough of the fishing and that we should press on with the rest of the sail to Ko Hong. I know it won’t change anything, but I wish we had carried on with the fishing.

We got the Ko Hong about 15 minutes later, sometime after 10am I presume (I hadn’t looked at my watch throughout the journey and so don’t know exactly what time it was). Ko Hong has a double bay. The first part of the bay (the part where we parked the boat) consists of a narrow beach leading to sheer cliffs. In between the two bays is a limestone karst about 30 feet tall, and when you walk around the karst you reach the second bay which is probably one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen in my life – your classic white beach, completely clear water, with trees lining it. Anyway, we all got out of our boat and started walking towards to second bay, which would apparently have led us to the lagoon and our canoes. Simon was lagging behind a bit and so I slowed down to walk with him. At this point we were just about up to the beach of the second bay, and everybody else was walking through the little forest towards the canoes. There were 120 people on the island that day. I remember looking out into the sea and seeing a line of water coming towards us, obviously a big wave.

Then all the Thai people started running. At this point I didn’t feel any urgency at all – it was almost like a dream. Somebody – I think it must have been Si, shouted at me “RUN” and so I started running. There was still absolutely no urgency at all about me, and I remember checking my handbag to make sure that it was firmly attached to me in case anything (I didn’t know what) happened. After about 5 paces my right flip flop fell off, and I stopped to put it back on.

Then the wave hit me. I still wasn’t particularly scared at this point as all I was thinking was “It’s just water, and I can swim – I will be fine”. Immediately I got caught in its force and found myself tumbling along the ground completely out of control. It was at that point that I realised that I could die. The next thing I remember is looking up at the sky through the water and seeing some tangled mangrove roots and thinking that I had to try to hoist myself up through the trees in order to breathe.

That was where I stayed. I think I might have lost consciousness for a bit at that point, because it seemed that almost immediately to me everything then went eerily quiet and it I was the only person on the whole island. I tried to pull myself up from the mangrove trees, and realised quickly that I was completely trapped and couldn’t go anywhere.

At that point I started screaming for help. I then saw a lady coming up to me and so asked her to help. She started pulling me out, but has since told me that as she couldn’t see anything wrong with me, she just told me that I had to try to do it myself as she had lost her 18 month old baby and was looking for her. Her baby died on that island. Her loss must have been unbearable. She did manage to pull me out of the trees enough for me to realise that my right leg must have been badly broken as my foot was at an angle that wouldn’t normally have been possible.

At that point I looked to my left and saw Simon about ten feet away. Apparently I shouted at him “baby, it’s me, I think my leg has fallen off.” He had blood running down his face, and his leg was also badly cut, but he was able to walk and so he started climbing as fast as he could across the mangrove trees to get to me. He was crying, and just kept saying to me that if that was a wave machine, like you get in amusement parks, it wasn’t a very funny joke, because people could have been badly hurt in it. With the help of a Norwegian man who had then appeared, Simon managed to pull me out of the mangrove trees so that I was lying on top of them. That was when we realised that my leg was in a much worse state then we had originally thought. The tibia was snapped completely, like a twig, and all the skin on my lower leg seemed to have sloughed away. I could also see red stinging ants climbing around in my muscle and whatever else was left of my leg, and my thigh was starting to swell up. I couldn’t feel any pain at all at first, and that was strange, but after a few minutes the pain started up and got worse and worse.

All I could think was that I needed to find a boat to take me back to the shore and to the hospital – and I kept saying it to everyone I could find. So Simon, an English woman called Sarah, and the Norwegian man started to pick me up and carry me back towards the beach to look for a boat. Obviously, none was there. At that point the water rose again, and we all realised that there was a big danger of another wave. That was when I realised that, although my handbag had managed to stay on me because I had made sure that it was secure before the wave hit, my bikini pants had been ripped off and I was naked below the waist.

Although it sounds stupid, that was all I was worried about at that point and kept telling everyone that I was naked and really embarrassed – it is funny that anyone could be worried about something as trivial as that at a time like that and I have thought about it a lot subsequently. There was a little concrete hut a few feet into the forest, and they decided to carry me there instead of finding a boat. At that point the pain was really beginning. The bottom of my leg was hanging onto the rest of it by a small piece of skin at the back, and every time they tried to carry me it would flop down and I would scream with pain. They eventually found a towel that they could use as a sling and that was how they ended up carrying me. We got to the hut, and it was completely packed with very badly injured people.

The only place to lie me down was in the doorway. Most people that were able bodied were worried about a second wave and had started making their way to higher ground. I remember there was a woman there who was lying on a makeshift bed. Her husband was kneeling over her side and was shouting at everyone asking them if they know how to do mouth to mouth. Simon went over to try to help, but she was dead. I was losing a lot of blood and was gradually starting to feel more and more out of it. At some point, our tour guide came to the hut, and recognising us, and taking one look at me, told us that he would go to find us a boat (I was still demanding a boat to the mainland). I don’t know how much longer we waited in the hut, but out tour guide was as good as his word. He came back with a yellow canoe (Simon is convinced it was red, but I vividly remember it as yellow – we have argued about it a lot since – stupid again I know). They lifted me into the canoe and started carrying me towards the beach again. This is the part that I know Simon will never ever get over.

When the tour guide got back to the hut he pulled Simon aside and told him that he had found a boat for me but that Si couldn’t tell anybody else because if he did there would be a mass fight to get on the boat and it may capsize. A man whose wife was dying then pulled Simon aside and asked him if we had found a boat. He said no. We later found out that I was the only survivor from that hut. 20 people died on the island that day. The man who had found the canoe slid me over the beach and then jumped into the canoe, paddling it himself. There was no room for Si in the canoe and so he held onto the back of it and started swimming. I have no idea how far away from the shore the boat was but it must have been quite a long way out due to the fear of another wave. Every time the Thai man who was paddling me looked at my leg he threw up into the sea. All three of us were petrified there was going to be another wave. We eventually got to the speed boat, and it went back to the mainland as quickly as possible.

When we got back there I was almost unconscious. Luckily as we were so early there was an ambulance waiting and it took me straight to Krabi hospital. I lost Si when we got to the shore, but apparently the minute he saw me being taken into the ambulance, he collapsed. His leg was much more badly injured than he had originally thought, and he spent the next month in hospital himself. I have very little memory of the next 2 days apart from being hot, being in pain, hearing people screaming and moaning, asking for water and painkillers, and being too scared to look at my leg.

On Monday evening I remember turning my head and being just really really surprised to see my Dad. He had been in Vietnam at the time the Tsunami hit, and when he couldn’t get through to me on my mobile had realised what had happened. He had spent 3 hours looking for me in the hospital, and just before he found me was told where the morgue was.

The next miracle appeared in the form of two of my colleagues from the Bangkok office of my firm, who had also realised what had happened, together with Simon’s parents who were in Chiang Mai on holiday when the Tsunami happened. Without the Thai tour guide, Simon, my work colleagues, or our parents I don’t think I would have been here today. They were amazing and organised for me to be taken straight from Krabi hospital to a private hospital in Hat Yai, and from there to Bangkok where I had my leg amputated on 30 December. It apparently was so badly infected that I would have been dead in days if I had stayed in Krabi. I stayed in hospital in Bangkok until 13th January, and was then in hospital in London until mid February.

I went back to work at the end of February, and finally got a prosthetic leg at the beginning of June. Things are slowly getting back to normal, but will never be the same again. I would like to say that my heart goes out to everyone who has been affected by the Tsunami and everybody who has lost somebody in it.

I am so so so desperately sorry for your losses.


At 10:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Fiona,
I'm Bill O'Leary. I was very moved by your story and would like your permission to republish it. I've just published a charity booklet for the Khao Lak orphans called "Tsunami Stories Thailand". It has a website under the same name. It's an eclectic collection of 16 people's stories.I will be publishing the same stories along with an extra 16 stories this year to coincide with the second anniversary. All proceeds of the project go to the registered Thai Charity 'Minor Tsunami Recovery Fund'. Send me an email at amancruises@amanresorts.com with your postal address and I'll send you a book.
Every good wish for 2006.
Bill O'Leary

At 6:13 PM, Blogger Deanna said...

Hey Fiona,
My name is Deanna Aitken im 13yrs old. I was looking 4 information on the Tsunami for my project and i came across your touching story. I have recently lost a loved one and i know how it feels. I read your story and the way you described this horrible disaster made me feel like i was really there but i could never feel the pain that the rest of you survivors and people who have lost loved one's do. But i do feel pain 4 the lost 1 i have recently lost. Your story was so moving that i believe you are a great roll mdel to teach people to always look on the bright side and hang on no matter what. To me you people who have survived are my heroes especially fiona and simon!! I thankyou so greatly 4 sharing your story with me and millions of other people. I would love to use your story as a part of my project and hopfully my class will feel the same way i did about your story... your story brought a tear to my eye honestly it was soo touching!!
Best wishes love deanna xoxo

At 12:32 PM, Blogger wolfgirl said...

Wow !! I am blown away ..I was horrified on Christmas watching the tsunami here in the states. It's been ten years I am still horrified . Thank you for making this a reality! Are you still with Simon ? How have you coped with the loss of your leg? God in Heaven was truly with you and Simon!Love in Christ your Savior .. and mine. Grateful for your story and memories!
Beth Wienhoff usa


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