Asia-Pacific

'We're just glad to be alive'

The Indonesian tsunami struck off the remote Mentawai Islands on the evening of Monday 25 October.

Captain Lee Clarke and his crew were on board the surfing charter boat Freedom 3, anchored off a bay on one of the islands - North Pagai. The tsunami waves caused his boat to plough into another surfing charter boat called the Midas.

Mr Clarke, 31, returned to Padang on 27 October with all his crew and guests. Here he relates his experiences.

"I'm just happy to be alive. I've been in Indonesia since 2004 and I've never experienced anything like this in my life. I can't get it out of my head.

It was around 2200 local time on Monday, and all six guests on board had eaten and were in bed.

I got up for no particular reason. But I believe that everything is connected.

I was looking at the water and at the Moon.

Within moments all the water was being sucked out of the bay, and the boat's anchor went super-tight.

I looked behind the Freedom 3 and saw a massive wall of white water from the tsunami wave that had already broken. It looked like it was three or four meters high.

'Hanging on for grim death'

The wave picked us up sideways and catapulted us straight into the Midas some 100 metres away.

We were just hanging on for grim death at this point.

I could see guys on the Midas as we were flung toward it. Within seconds we crashed into the Midas and then I saw a wall of fire. I thought the Freedom 3 was also on fire at this point, it was only later that I realised it had escaped the flames.

There was a surge of water. And then a second surge. At this point I was able to turn the engines into reverse, and try to break free from the Midas.

The chef, Chris Love released the anchor chain and anchor.

People on board the Midas managed to jump into the sea. Two of the those on board managed to swim to our boat as we got away.

We motored off, heading for deeper water.

'Shaken'

Some surfers who were on shore at the Macaroni Surf Resort had made their way to a tower. They saw our boat heading out to deeper water. Later they said it looked like we were travelling vertically over the water. It wasn't that steep, but we did ride over two absolutely massive waves.

Everyone on board had been really shaken - we all thought we were going to die. But I had to remain strong to get us through it.

Image caption Six guests were on board the Freedom 3 when it was hit

My main priority was the safety of everyone on board. Things had settled down by first light and we came back to search for any survivors. The weather was really bad and the winds were really strong.

By this time another charter boat, the D'bora, had answered the distress call and was picking up the rest of the passengers from the Midas. We discovered that Midas had been completely burned down and the Marconi Surf Resort had been severely damaged and abandoned.

By luck all those on board the Midas had survived. On the evening of the 26 October we headed for Padang, West Sumatra, taking all passengers and crew.

Those few moments when the tsunami struck keep replaying in my mind. We're just glad to be alive and of some assistance to the people in the area."

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