Asian Tsunami Heros

Monday, January 10, 2005

Cool-headed Scots teacher is life-saving tsunami hero

A FORMER school teacher from Scotland yesterday emerged as a hero of the Asian Tsunami.

Although wounded with a crushed leg, arm and throat, John Grant, 46, saved a woman from a collapsing café, took another girl to safety in a palm tree, swam out to sea and commandeered a boat, saving at least another half-dozen lives, and led a party of 60 to safety in the hills.

A former member of Lomond Mountain Rescue Team, Mr Grant was on Ko Phi Phi island in Thailand when the wave struck.

Last night, he described the moment when he was catapulted into the middle of a disaster zone.

He said: "I suddenly became aware that people were running around screaming.

"I looked out of the café and I saw a boat coming up the street. It was a shocking sight. I looked closer and there was what I can only describe as a bulldozer - a wall of water carrying tables, chairs, people, fridge-freezers, garments, you name it, all in this wall of water two metres high and 50 metres away.

"There were six people in the café and I screamed to them to run and I grabbed hold of a Swedish woman next to me and she ran with me.

"We were the only two people to get out of the cafe alive.

"The building collapsed and pinned her husband down. I tried to free him, but a concrete beam was lying across his chest and I wasn’t strong enough to lift it, and more debris was falling all the time.

"Then the wave came over and submerged me. I was hit with a freezer, which landed on top of me and knocked the wind from me. I ingested a lot of water and sand but actually managed to struggle free."

Mr Grant, from Drymen, Stirlingshire, clambered on to the corrugated iron roof of another collapsed building, which was being buoyed up by the wave.

He said: "At one point, my leg was trapped between two roofs and I had to forcibly free myself, but obviously damaged my leg.

"I had crush injuries and open wounds to my right leg, my arm was crushed, and my thorax was crushed, but I didn’t feel the pain because there was a lot of adrenalin pumping.

"I put my survival down to the fact that I don’t think I actually panicked."

He went on: "The Swedish lady with me was distraught because her husband had disappeared beneath the mass, and bubbles were coming up, so when the first wave receded she implored me to go and find his body. I found it, and he was clearly dead, with major open organ wounds.

"There were some Thai people who were there, who seemed petrified - just frozen, numb from what had happened, so they didn’t really get into action in a sensible way.

"Their families and their livelihoods had gone and they were just in shock. My immediate, initial reaction was to try and save life. I swam out about 200 metres to sea and got one of their ‘long-tailed’ boats which had the ignition keys still in it.

"I brought it back in and rescued half a dozen people and took them out to ships which were berthed way out from the main bay and couldn’t come in because of the amount of debris and the strong currents.

"Then I noticed there were two Thai men who had a very powerful speed-boat.

"I swam over and asked them if we could use the boat to rescue people who were still on the shore and moaning in agony - but these guys wouldn’t participate. They were looting, going round the bay, identifying suitcases, bursting them open, and taking valuables.

"I tried to get the boat from them, but they drove it away from me so I swam back to the shore to see if there was anybody there to be helped."

Mr Grant added: "Through the night, we could hear buildings collapse and people screaming. We were eaten alive by mosquitoes, and I am now being monitored for malaria."

With his wounds infected, Mr Grant was taken on a ferry to Phuket and then rushed to hospital. Many of his wounds were cleaned and stitched up without anaesthetic. He was then bandaged up, given a parcel of medication and asked to report to the British Embassy.

With no clothes apart from his bathing trunks and a pair of flip-flops, Mr Grant had to rely on two generous Royal Bank of Scotland staff to wire him money to get home. The bank itself would not help, saying it was a public holiday.

He said: "I am now home and alive, but facing hassle over silly things like getting a driving licence back.

"Fortunately, I am single, and I count myself lucky that I wasn’t out there in Ko Phi Phi with anybody else. I was a sole agent and that allowed me basically to get on with things without considering the needs of others with me."

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