An inquest into the Marchioness disaster, which shocked the country in 1989, is due to conclude today. Two partygoers explain how the ordeal transformed their lives
RICHARD, 32

I went to the party on the Marchioness with my friend David and eight other people. Six of us survived. We'd had some champagne in a friend's flat and made our way down to the Embankment, where we waited for the boat, which was late. We finally boarded and left the dock at 1.30am.

All nine of us were dancing when I felt a shoving sensation. The music started skipping. I had no idea what was going on. Then there was a grinding noise and I turned and saw a grey metal thing through the window. I thought we'd hit a bridge. At no stage did I think it was a boat.

The Marchioness started to tilt and I slid across the dance floor. I remember seeing a very attractive black girl dressed in orange trying to get to the door. Then I looked through the window, which was half under water. I bashed the window with my hand and couldn't get out. That's when I knew I was in trouble. As the water rose from my knees to my chin and then over my head, I took a deep breath.

I was feeling for open windows when I ran out of air. My mouth opened and I thought, "This is supposed to be a nice sensation". Then I was in slow motion. I wasn't moving and I started to feel warm and comfortable. It annoyed me that I was dying but I resigned myself to it. I had just seen a light shape that I was drawn to when I saw a piece of wood. I came up coughing up water and gasping for air, then I went down again. "This is it," I thought, and was waiting to die when I saw a rectangular light, which I pulled myself towards. The next thing I knew I was spluttering on the surface of the Thames. There were four of us, then 15, all swimming for the orange life-rafts.

It took me two years of hypnotherapy to sort out the accident. I had recurring dreams and felt guilty: the friend who had collected me had died. I also saw a psychotherapist but stopped because I thought it was too easy to get caught in a cycle; several people I know who were on the boat still seem to depend on them.

I was really lucky: the restaurant I worked for gave me time off to recuperate from the shock. I did have a lot of health problems, though - diarrhoea for three months, bad headaches for almost three years. I still have stomach trouble.

The accident happened almost six years ago. At the time, it seemed to change my life. I don't think it has any more. My attitude towards death is fatalistic: I was on the boat because I was invited. I was not on it to learn anything or to save anyone. It was just bad luck.

It's really too late now for an inquiry, although I'll help if I can. I really want to distance myself from the accident. Life has to continue.

CARRIE, 29

At first, I thought a boat had gone past us, causing a wash - everyone went "Whoa". After that, everything on the dance floor fell on top of me. All I could see was the wooden floor

- then we were submerged.

People were clawing at me, trying to reach the surface. I was clawing at them. I kept saying to myself: "I am not going to die". Just when I couldn't hold my breath any longer, I realised I was in an air pocket near a window. Somebody pulled me out and I started swimming.

I was taken quite far down the river. I think I went under Southwark Bridge, then I began looking around for something to grab. Somebody kept screaming. That's when I realised how horrific the situation was. I started to feel frightened.

Gold chairs from the dining room kept floating by but they were moving too fast to grab. A man swam past and I thought he was coming to save me but he wasn't. I looked away and saw an orange life-raft so I kicked as hard as I could until I reached it. Then I passed out.

I've had two lots of therapy.The first time I was dealing with shock and guilt, the death of friends. You think you're so untouchable, you never expect that kind of thing to happen; at the time, I was doubting my sanity.

I changed overnight from a normal 24-year-old to someone who suffered flashbacks and couldn't be in confined spaces. I had dreadful nightmares. Usually, I'd be in a boat accident with my family and friends and I would be the only survivor. My life was badly affected. I dumped my then boyfriend. I was just about to start a job as a model booker, but it never happened. I decided that people didn't think I was capable. I was pretty neurotic about everything; I'd worry if people were slightly late. Relationships have been hard because I feel that if we break up, I won't ever see them again. It's taken a long time to sort myself out.

Last year, I went for a second lot of therapy to sort out the long-term effects and I've emerged from it well. It's made me stronger and more selective with my trust. And work is going well. I wouldn't wish the experience on anyone, but I'm definitely a better person now.

We should have had the inquest much sooner. We live in a democratic society, so you can't just cover things up. People's minds need to be put at rest.

Interviews by Gillian Mosely

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