Air Force officer recounts 6-hour ordeal at sea with young boy at height of ‘Yolanda’
Tacloban City is reduced to vast wasteland after the onslaught of super typhoon “Yolanda.” Video by INQUIRER.net’s Ryan Leagogo
MANILA, Philippines — “Don’t sleep!! Look, we are near land already!” an Air Force officer said to a seven-year old child as they battled with storm surges that brought their bodies to sea at the onslaught of monster typhoon “Yolanda” (international name Haiyan).
Yolanda, one of the strongest typhoons recorded in history, was at its peak strength on Friday when Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Fermin Carangan, commanding officer of Tactical Operations Group 8, a unit of the Philippine Air Force providing air support in Samar and Leyte based in Tacloban, was swallowed by storm surges when he saw the little boy named Miguel.
A few hours before, when strong winds by Yolanda were starting to be felt, the troops already geared up for possible rescue missions. Rains started to pour at around 7a.m. Carangan took shelter in the office but the waters have already entered the building.
Waters rose that they had to destroy the ceiling. He was the last to get up. The building collapsed and he witnessed his men fall into the high water and very strong winds. He was able to cling to a piece of wood as he was taken by the waves and current.
He saw his men, including two officers who are fresh graduates, got washed away by the waves. Carangan then was swept towards the sea.
“I was going farther and farther out into the sea and all I saw were tips of coconut tees disappearing into the rising water. Suddenly, I saw a child wrapping his arms tightly to a floating coconut tree. By a stroke of luck, the waves led me to the child,” Carangan said as quoted by Army’s 8th Infantry Division deputy chief of staff for Training Lieutenant Colonel Allan Jose Taguba.
Both the 8th Infantry Division and the Tactical Operations Group are under the control of Armed Forces Central Command in Visayas region. Taguba posted Carangan’s narration on Facebook.
“The little boy also held to the piece of wood I was holding on to. We floated where our bodies took us,” he said.
When they reached the sea, Carangan said they went through “another hell.”
“We were slammed by waves—huge waves from all directions. We were also toyed by whipping winds. We drank a lot of salt seawater. I was getting so tired,” he also said.
“Too young to die,” he thought to himself as he looked at the little boy.
His thoughts also led to his family: “I prayed to God to take care of my wife and kids. I thought I’ve done to them what every father could — that is, to take good care of them,” he said.
And being the officer that he was, he also thought of his men under his command.
“Days before, I had told them to ensure the safety of their families, especially those in Tacloban since it could be hit hard and we would be busy with the rescue missions. They might not have time to check on their families during the rescue,” he said.
“I thought of the two new graduates of [Philippine Military Academy] 2013. I thought that if something happened to me, at least I had been able to give professional and honorable service for a time. And that I’ve done enough since graduation. These two young guys were just starting and still have a very bright future ahead,” Carangan said.
By that time, the little boy Miguel was shivering from the cold.
“He told me, ‘Kuya, I will sleep now. I’m so tired already,” Carangan said.
“Don’t sleep! Look, we are near land already!” he shouted at the boy’s ears.
To encourage the boy, he pointed to what he thought was a wave that seemed like a wall. To his surprise, they have indeed reached the shoreline.
“Maybe he’s the reason I’m still alive because God wants to me to make sure this child will live,” the Air Force officer said of Miguel.
Both were rescued along the shorelines of Basey in Samar at around 1p.m. on that same day. They floated for six hours until they were rescued, Taguba said.
“I’m not posting this to let everyone know I or we in this part of Visayas survived the strongest of winds. But by accounts of those who have experienced the worst of Yolanda, a prayer could help ease the suffering. I’m posting to ask just that — your prayers,” Taguba said.
Carangan is now recovering at a military hospital in Metro Manila while Miguel has been turned over to a retired police officer while waiting for his family.
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