Capsized ship survivors recall moments of horror

Capsized ship survivors recall moments of horror
Rescue workers transport the body of a victim of the capsized Eastern Star on Tuesday.

Three of the 14 survivors recall their experiences of the maritime disaster on the Yangtze River, in which 18 are confirmed dead and hundreds remain missing.

Wu Jianqiang, 58, tourist

"I might have died if my wife had not let go of my hands at the last moment," said Wu Jianqiang, who was the first person to call the police after the accident on Monday.

Wu and his wife, Li Xiuzhen, are from Tianjin. The two were aboard the Eastern Star for a package tour when the ship sank.

According to Wu, the couple was lying in bed holding hands together when the ship tilted. The bed then fell and trapped Li Xiuzhen.

Wu tried to pull his wife out but failed. "Let go!" Li shouted suddenly to Wu.

Shocked by his wife's request, Wu loosened his grip on his wife's hands and was then pushed outside by water. The ship was turned over completely at that moment.

Wu then swam for several minutes before he was saved.

His wife remains unaccounted for.

Xie Lin (alias), 52, tourist

Xie Lin never imagined his smoking habit, which his wife often complained about, would someday save his life.

On Monday evening, Xie, on a 12-day package tour with his wife, was invited by other passengers to play cards. But later the game was cancelled and Xie decided to go to bed early.

He then went out to the deck for a cigarette since smoking was prohibited inside the cabin. His wife had already fallen asleep.

When he went back about 10 minutes later, the ship began to tilt.

"A huge stream of water propped me up and I couldn't control my body,"Xie recalled, "but I thought to myself that I wanted to see the sky and had to get out."Xie grabbed a life ring as his body struggled to remain above water and put his feet in a plastic bucket. "I thought anything plastic should somehow be buoyant."

Later Xie found another survivor and the two were finally saved by a boat after hours of floating in the cold water and rain.

Xie called his son in Shanghai and told him "your mother is gone".

"The dead are dead and the survivors should go on living and make the most of every day," Xie said. He said he doesn't want to recall the experience any more, not even to his son.

Zhu Hongmei, 65, tourist

When the shipwreck happened, Zhu Honemei, a 67-year-old Nanjing native, was trapped at the bottom of the boat. Later when the ship capsized she luckily had her head above water.

Then Zhu climbed onto a cabinet and found an iron stick. She began to hit the hull with the stick.

She was pulled out of water 17 hours after the accident.

"My husband was also on the ship but I was unable to find him,"Zhu said.

Zhang Hui, 43, tour agency staff member

"The weather suddenly became stormy outside, with strong lightning and heavy rain pouring in from the right side of the ship. Even when we shut the window, we noticed water coming into the cabins," Zhang Hui, one of the tour agency staff members, recalled from a hospital bed on Tuesday in Yueyang, Hunan province, where he was rescued.

Twenty minutes later the ship tilted about 45 degrees, and Zhang said to his colleagues that they were in "deep trouble". Seconds later, the ship began to capsize.

Zhang, who can't swim, immediately reached for a life jacket. By the time he put it on, the cabin window was already above his head and the water level was rising inside the ship. He and his colleague climbed out the window and jumped into the river.

But many others who were on board the cruise ship Eastern Star had no chance to put on life jackets because the ship capsized so quickly, Zhang said.

"I could hear people screaming for help around me," Zhang said.

He started to float on the river, and big waves caused by the storm hit him several times. It was just before dawn when he saw the riverbank. After using the last of his strength to climb onto the shore, he discovered he was in neighbouring Hunan province.

"I am alive" is the first thing he said when he called his wife.

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