Fishermen, outdoors experts and environmental groups searched the water and riverbanks near the capsized Eastern Star on Tuesday in hopes of finding and rescuing the more than 400 missing people.[Special coverage]
The civilian rescuers - some using only homemade equipment - were battling waves, gales and downpours.
Feng Kaimin, from Yueyang, Hunan province, heard a call for help coming from the roaring Yangtze River at 12:30 am as he was checking his equipment.
He walked down the bank, saw there was a person in the river and called a friend. They boarded a small boat, and Feng - a skilled fisherman - navigated through the waves.
They found Jiang Geng, a passenger who had jumped from the ship seconds before it capsized.
"He was very excited to see us, but he was very tired," Feng said.
He and his friend pulled Jiang from the water and then tried to return to shore.
"But the wind was too strong. It took us more than two hours to get back," Feng said. "We were all exhausted."
Jing was taken to a hospital, where he is in stable condition.
Six volunteers from the Yueyang East Dongting Environmental Protection Association have been at the scene of the capsized vessel since the accident.
They have been scouring the river in a speedboat for survivors, despite the strong waves.
"We can't join the divers in rescue work, but we are trying our best to search for survivors in other areas," said Chen Hanbo, one of the volunteers.
More than 100 members of Blue Sky Rescue, a civilian group of outdoors experts, also joined the effort. They pulled three bodies from the river using professional equipment.
Divers and maritime experts pledged to continue the search for survivors. Civilian ships passing the scene of the accident have also joined the work.