Hu Jianyue, the only survivor from Shanghai from the ill-fated Chinese cruise ship that sank in the Yangtze River last Monday, is back in the city. [Special coverage]
Hu, 56, was among the 14 survivors from Eastern Star, which capsized in a storm with 456 people on board. Ninety seven of them were from Shanghai.
On Saturday, Hu took a high-speed train from Yueyang, Hunan Province, to return to Shanghai, and went straight to meet his mother in Zhabei District.
"I feel sorry for the many people who worried about me," Hu, who is single and lives with his mother, told Shanghai Daily yesterday. "Just as my mother said, I am fortunate to be alive and I am grateful to everyone who helped me.
Hu said he was on the third floor of the ship when the incident happened. He shared a cabin with five others — none of whom made it ashore.
Hu said he was close to the cabin door when the ship shook heavily in heavy rain and wind. He slipped through the door and fell into the river as the ship overturned. He said he could hear the cries of the people trapped inside for 20 minutes even in the heavy rain.
He gradually swam away from the ship. After being in the water for four hours, he was finally rescued.
"I thought I was going to die in the water. But I spotted a life buoy floating nearby. I swam towards it and caught it. That was really lifesaving," he said, his voice still trembling.
As he floated on the river he spotted another life ring and grabbed it to rest his leg on it. But a little later he saw another person swim towards him.
"I was a little worried that he might try and grab my life buoy, but he just rested his hand on it and held on to a chair with the other," Hu said.
The other person was Xie Yong, who is from Wuxi, Jiangsu Province.
The two men kept floating in the ice cold waters not knowing when they would be rescued. They screamed for help when they saw two fishing boats pass by, but they didn't stop.
"We were yelling so hard when the first boat passed that we ran out of stamina. So I told him that we'd shout in turns."
It turned out later that both the boats heard their screams for help, but, for some reasons, could not reach them. They did, however, report to the maritime police.
"It was dark and raining heavily. I was really afraid when the boats passed by — why couldn't they save us? Couldn't they hear us? Especially the second boat which tried to locate us with search lights for a while," Hu wondered.
About 20 minutes later the maritime police rescued both of them.
"My legs were numb by then and they could not pull me onto the ship. An officer then jumped into the water and lifted me while others pulled me up," Hu said. "It was very dangerous for him too as it was raining very heavily."
After rescuing both of them, the maritime police spotted another survivor 30 minutes later. The police seemed unaware of the disaster as they asked them how they fell into the water. They immediately reported it to their supervisors and called for more help.
Hu said four crew members, including the captain, were rescued by the same ship later. "The local officials took good care of us. As I had lost all my belongings, they bought me clothes, a suitcase and even gave me a cellphone that I'm using now."
Hu said he and few others did not need to be hospitalized.
"I don't think I'll travel again very soon ... not even if I get paid for the trip," Hu said but added that he might still one day take a trip on the Yangtze River in the future. "For now, I want to send a silk banner as a sign of gratitude to the police officers who saved me and the two fishing boats who called the police."
He was keen to look for Xie Yong. "This will be a unique friendship," Hu said.