COUPLE FORCED TO LEAP FROM THAI FERRY FIRE
ACOUPLE on honeymoon spent a terrifying 40 minutes cast adrift in the sea after leaping for their lives from the Thai ferry fire which killed a schoolgirl.
Newlyweds Gareth, 36, and Natalie Lee, 29, were among 100 passengers forced to throw themselves into the water to escape the explosion, which has cast a shadow over the happiest time of their lives.
They were on board with grandparents Iain and Elaine Marshall from Salford, who lost all but their clothes in the sinking of the Ao Nang Princess 5 on its way to Phuket.
Gareth, a Trafford Park warehouse worker and his new wife Natalie, who is afraid of heights and sea-swimming, have been left traumatised by the ordeal on the final day of their dream break. The pair, who married at Heaton House Farm, Macclesfield, had been island hopping on a speedboat all day, along with 12-year-old Shani Maril, from Israel, who was to lose her life in the fire.
But, while snoozing at the back of the ferry on their return to Phuket, the boat suddenly stopped, there was a loud bang and smoke billowed from the engine room.
Gareth said: “Everyone started panicking, running and jumping. It was so scary. We delayed jumping because Natalie is scared of heights, doesn’t like boats and isn’t a strong swimmer. But all but two of the boat crew jumped in.”
Most upsetting for the pair was hearing the harrowing screams of Shani’s parents.
He added: “She was just a happy little girl on holiday with her family, there were three children in the family. We could hear the dad shouting she was dead, he was hysterical, it was terrible.
“That’s when we realised this was a serious situation but we were stalling.”
The couple finally jumped and swam as far from the boat as they could – but they then had an agonising 40 minute wait for a rescue boat.
By the time they were saved, Natalie was hysterical.
The couple lost a bag with their phones, including pictures of their honeymoon, as well as other valuables.
He added: “Natalie has a sevenyear-old son – we are just so glad he wasn’t with us or it could have been much worse.
“But we are lucky to be alive.”
Gareth and Natalie Lee