Sea tragedy: 35 dead, 20 missing
‘I thought I would die’
Eduardo Pastoran, 52, thought it was his end. The father of six said he had to hang on to a floating bamboo to survive.
“There were cries all around. Passengers, including children and old people, jumped into the sea. I thought I would die,” Pastoran said.
While floating on the bamboo, he was able to pull up four people and make them hang on until they were rescued 30 minutes later.
While waiting for the rescuers, he saw five bodies floating.
Pastoran together with 57 others were brought to Gatchalian Hospital.
Pastoran was thankful. “This is my second life and now I am only thinking of my wife and children who I am sure are worried about me,” he said.
He said he went to Ormoc to buy materials for his vehicle.
Ann Garciano, 27 and a resident of Poro town in Camotes, was worried about her sister-in-law Marilou Gonzaga, who remained missing.
Garciano said she put on a life jacket when told by the crew. Then she saw the big waves hitting the boat while Nirvana was making a turn after leaving port.
When the vessel capsized, she immediately jumped into the waters. She said she floated in the water for more than 10 minutes before she was rescued.
Among the fatalities was the cousin of Pilar Mayor Jesus Jer Fernandez Jr. Fernandez said there were three motorboats, including Nirvana, that plied the Pilar-Ormoc route.
On Thursday, only the Nirvana served the route because the two others had mechanical problems.
Also among the fatalities was Sonia Moreno, principal of Pilar National High School.
Julius Regner of the provincial disaster management office, said some survivors claimed the vessel might have capsized due to overloading.
“There was a lot of cargos, mostly cement and sacks of rice,” he said.
Dozens of survivors
The crew was headed by its skipper, Warren Oliverio.
Oscar Tabada, head of the local weather bureau, said the rough seas were caused by the habagat and the low pressure area in the Bicol region.
The hull of Nirvana remains visible from the port area.
Coast Guard spokesperson Armand Balilo said the wooden outrigger ferry was leaving for the Camotes Islands when it was lashed by strong waves.
Rescue boats picked up dozens of survivors who clung to the overturned hull of the vessel, one kilometer from Ormoc port on Leyte island, Ciriaco Tolibao from the city’s disaster risk reduction and management office told Agence France-Presse.
Human error, bad weather
Divers scoured the murky waters searching for survivors from the inside of the ship, he said.
“Search and rescue operations are ongoing. Initially we learned that it was due to big waves,” said Rey Gozon, director of the Office of Civil Defense for the region.
Balilo said authorities were looking at various possible causes of the accident, including human error and bad weather.
“There was an occasional swell but the sea condition was manageable. Some motorized outriggers were able to sail,” he said.
“There was no gale warning and while there was a tropical depression, it was far from the area of the accident.”
Planes couldn’t fly
Eli Borinaga, the vice mayor of Pilar town on an island to the south who had hoped to join the ferry but didn’t make it on time, told local radio that there was only light rain at the time of the accident.
He cited a witness at Ormoc port who saw the boat make a sharp turn just before it capsized.
At least 53 survivors were brought to the hospital while more than two dozen others walked home after the mishap, he said.
Low visibility, clouds, a choppy sea and strong winds hampered the rescue operation.
Richard Gordon, chair of the Philippine Red Cross, said the Air Force could not operate in those conditions. He said a team of divers was supposed to be deployed but additional divers could not fly in because of the bad weather.
Drake said he was able to revive a woman who wasn’t breathing while they were in the water via mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
He said he also saved an 8-year-old boy and the woman’s pregnant daughter. But he said he also saw at least seven bodies floating in the water, including two children.
President Aquino directed the Coast Guard to “exert all efforts to look for those who remain missing.”
Malacañang “continues to monitor the progress of the rescue operations,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte told reporters. With reports from Jhunnex Napallacan, Doris C. Bongcac and Joey A. Gabieta, Inquirer Visayas; Jerry E. Esplanada in Manila, AP, Reuters and AFP