Wednesday, December 26, 2012

SURVIVOR John Thompson - Why I was one of the few to survive, I won't ever know.

John Thompson - Khao Lak Tsunami Survivor
Why I was one of the few to survive, I won’t ever know.
John Thompson, Khao Lak Tsunami Survivor

Information from the website of John Thompson. Reproduced here by permission.
Copyright © 2005-2010 John M. Thompson | Contact for photo use permission and questions/comments.
Thailand: 8,245 Dead

Why I was one of the few to survive I won't ever know. My fortune was partially due to luck and partially due to a few calculated gambles. This website tells the story of how I survived one of the world's most destructive natural disasters in modern history.

Having narrowly cheated death, I am left with a sense of extreme optimism for my future. Perhaps because I came so close to losing everything, that now every day of life seems like a new beginning. Being laid off from my job upon my return home was not a crisis. Combined with surviving the tsunami I saw it as an opportunity to reassess where my life has been going and how I could rebuild my career in a meaningful way.

This website is dedicated to the memory of the thousands who were less fortunate than I on the fateful day of 26 December 2004. Special thanks go to those I was with during and after the disaster - Petra, Bob, and Timothy. 

Here is a timeline of what happened to me those days in Khao Lak, Thailand.

Saturday, 25 December 2004 16:53:25
Arrived at Khao Lak. Explored area north of bungalow at Khaolak Orchid Beach Resort.

Enjoyed Christmas dinner at Ristorante Da Gorgio and then later had desert at a beach front bar.

Sunday, 26 December 2004 08:00

While laying on mattress, contemplating whether or not to sleep in longer, felt vibrating sensation for about two minutes. Did not think it was an earthquake and thought nothing of it after vibrating stopped.

9:00 Enjoyed breakfast at Mai's Quiet Zone on open patio overlooking the beach. Watched two boys from English family I had met when checking in the previous day playing frisbee in the waves.

9:45 Stopped by motorbike rental shop and paid 200 Baht for one more rental day.

10:00 Purchased souvenir shirt and some food at market across the street from motorbike rental shop.

10:10 Began motorbike journey with eventual goal of checking out the Poseidon Bungalows which had been recommended to me. Also intended on visiting the Ton Pling Waterfall on the way.

10:17 Unsuccessful attempt at finding "View Point" as listed on the map. Continued driving down the road.

10:21 Parked motorbike at Sea Gull Andaman Resort and walked down to inspect beach and what appeared to be an extremely low tide.

10:26:16 Noticed wooden longtail boat struggling in the water and eventually turn over. Also saw many people standing on the shore looking at something, which I then assumed was the struggling boat (but in retrospect I think they were looking at the approaching wave or the bay empty of water). Took camera out of bag to take picture of boat.

10:26:23 Seven seconds later: After taking picture of boat, the bay had already completely filled with water and I took picture of what I thought was just an extra large wave.

10:27:14 Fifty two seconds later: When I realized the wave was not stopping at the shore I and others at the beach began running as fast as possible. Since I already had the camera out, I took a picture over my shoulder as I ran, hoping to capture the rushing wave.

Running from the Waves - Photo by John Thompson

10:28:04 Fifty seconds later: It was obvious that the wave was not stopping and that I was not going to be able to outrun the wave so I ran up the front entrance to the nearest big building, dodging falling roof tiles, and hoping that the building would not be washed away or collapse. Took photo of now flooded street as I ran into the hotel.

10:31:41 Climbed up on wooden balcony railing and prayed I was high enough above the water. The water eventually came up to the top of the railing and then started receeding. Started taking photos as the water drained out.

View of the Courtyard - Photo by John Thompson

 Woman on mattress in the water

2004 11:01:04 Sought refuge in alcove at highest point in the building. Was bracing for additional waves which never came.

John Thompson, On the Roof - Waiting for the water to recede - Photo by John Thompson

12:04:16 Almost 2 hours after seeing the struggling boat, the water finally drained out far enough so that it seemed safe to walk out.

Walking Through The Rubble - Photo by John Thompson

12:20:34 Hitched ride on a passing pickup truck back into main beach of Khao Lak. Photographed some of the devastation as seen from the road.

Sunday, 26 December 2004

14:11:14 Photographed what was believed to be a second wave but which turned out to be a false alarm. Spent the rest of the day and night in safety on top of high hill.

Monday, 27 December 2004

09:27:39 After being scared back to the hill by several false alarms, Tim and I finally made our way through the wreckage to retreive some of his belongings from his third floor hotel room before beginning hike out of the area.

11:26:50 During another false alarm we were driven to military staging area where we were finally taken by private car to a bus station to catch VIP bus to Bangkok.

Friday 31 December 2004

06:59:32 Solomon and I inspected donated goods at military side of Bangkok airport while waiting for transport plane back to Krabi.

Saturday 1 January 2005

09:39:23 Distributed donations to owners of damaged longtail boats in Krabi area.

Saturday 1 January 2005

12:18:37 First return vist to Khao Lak area to determine extent of damage. Toured area and local hospitals with Jenny, a relief worker for American medical aid organization.

Sunday 2 January 2005

12:18:25 Toured ruined resort island of Phuket. Photographed destruction at Patong beach.

Daily Collection of recently found bodies - Photo by John Thompson

Uncovered bodies waiting to be identified - Photo by John Thompson

Monday 10 January 2005

14:55:03 Second return trip to Khao Lak. Distributed thousands of dollars of relief aid to refugee camp near Takua Pa.

Tuesday 11 January 2005

09:08:11 Final bit of aid work. Distributed donated money to Monitee Temple in Krabi.

Saturday 22 January 2005

07:12 Returned home to California after continuing trip to southern Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore.

December 26, 2005

After coming within 15 seconds of an almost certain death one year ago today, one of the most common questions I am asked is "How did that experience change your perspective on life?" To answer that question, I look back on how I have lived during this past year. 

As all people realize who come so close to loosing everything, the only thing that really matters is life. While it is nice to have physical things without life none of those things matter. In recognition of this simple premise, I try to make the most of life, by continuing to travel, mixing work with play when possible, and developing new hobbies.

After returning from Thailand, I spent some additional time traveling, spending a month in Peru exploring the Amazon and climbing peaks high in the Andes. In May I came into possession of a new sailboat and have sailed almost every weekend since then. Beginning in July I started working again as an attorney. Although I currently work for a law firm, I continue to explore other career opportunities.

As for the future, I am sure the lessons from the tsunami will stay with me forever. Not one day has gone by where I have not somehow been reminded of the traumatic and overwhelming events of one year ago. I have not been able to answer the question as to why I survived when over 223,000 people did not, inlcuding the fact that 80% of Thailand's tsunami casualties occured in Khao Lak.

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