After only 10 minutes of a scheduled two-hour trip, their teacher Norman Pointer capsized, Samantha Stansby, 17, said. The pupils from Southway Comprehensive school in Plymouth were starting a week's stay at an outdoor centre in Lyme Regis, Dorset.
Joanna Willis, 16, told a news conference the canoes 'went over like dominoes. You don't expect it to happen to you.'
The survivors were Joanna, fellow 16-year-old Emma Hartley, Samantha and 17-year- old Marie Rendle. The four who died were Simon Dunne and Claire Langley, both 16 and Dean Sayer and Rachel Walker, both 17. They were accompanied by two instructors, Karen Gardner, 23, and Tony Mann, 23.
When Mr Pointer capsized, Mr Mann stayed with him, while Ms Gardner looked after the sixth-formers. After 30 minutes the youngsters were told to form their canoes into a 'raft' which then started drifting, Samantha said.
Emma said: 'When we first got into trouble we did not think it would be long before someone would come to help us.' But then when they started to get into difficulties and when Dean capsized 'we gradually all went over one after the other, like dominoes really'.
Samantha said she and Emma decided to swim for the shore after a couple of hours 'because nothing was happening. I thought if I could get close to land someone might spot us and go for the others.
'I felt scared leaving the group and could not feel my hands. I was afraid of the fish biting at my feet.'
Emma said she became exhausted. 'I must have fallen asleep. Then I was woken up by the yellow helicopter.'
Samantha said: 'I was falling asleep. The only thing keeping me awake was the water going into my mouth. I opened my eyes and saw a man looking down. I've never been so thankful in my life to see a smiling face. He gave me the thumbs up.'
Marie, who held hands with Joanna during the news conference in Plymouth, said that when the rescue helicopter arrived they were all 'shouting and waving' - including Dean.
She said: 'We thought Dean was going to make it,' and added that Simon was 'delirious' and Rachel unconscious by that time.Reuse content