Salford Advertiser - - FRONT PAGE - Char­lotte Cox

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

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