Survivor clung to floating tree and ate coconuts

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The Independent Online

For eight days Rizal Shahputra clung on for dear life, adrift in the Indian Ocean on an uprooted palm tree as one by one scores of his family, friends and neighbours slipped below the water's surface around him.

He had been cleaning the mosque in his home at Banda Aceh when the tsunami struck. Grabbing whatever he could to keep afloat, he was sucked 100 miles out to sea.

He survived on a diet of floating coconuts and rainwater and, sunburnt and suffering cuts and bruises, he was rescued by a passing container ship and taken to the Malaysia's Port Klang, where yesterday he described his escape.

"At first, there were some friends with me ... After a few days, they were gone. ... I saw bodies left and right," the 23-year-old said. "Everybody sank, my family members sank. There were bodies around me."

The first he knew of the tsunami was when children rushed in to the mosque to warn him. But the surging waves swept them out to sea before they could escape.

During his eight days afloat at least one ship sailed by without noticing him before the crew of the Japanese-owned MV Durban Bridge spotted him floating 100 miles west of Aceh. The ship's chief officer, Huang Wen Feng, described Mr Shaputra's survival as a miracle. "When I saw him, I was very very surprised to see someone standing," he said. "He was shouting at us. I couldn't believe it."

It was the second such sea rescue following the tsunami. On Friday, a Malaysian tuna-fishing boat rescued a 23-year-old woman from Aceh who had clung on to the trunk of a palm tree for five days