Couple made a date with survival

STOCKHOLM - Sara Hedrenius, 20, and Kent Harstedt, 29, met for the first time on the deck of the sinking Estonia, writes Annika Savill. Kent was tugging at a lifeboat that was stuck. There were only seconds to go before the ship went under completely.

They made a pact to survive - and to have dinner together in Stockholm the following week. Then they jumped, hand in hand, into the stormy black water. The other 15 in their life raft died of cold that night. Sara and Kent survived.

Now, the story of the two Swedes is being described as a miracle of psychological teamwork in sustaining hope. Sara said: 'He introduced himself and asked if we could help each other. I said of course we could. You only had to walk towards the water, and so we did, holding each other.'

Sara had made it to the deck because she had not booked a cabin and was sleeping on a seat in the cafe. 'I got hold of a life vest and went to the highest point. I sat there thinking what to do, then I saw someone whom I now know to be Kent Harstedt.' Kent could not manage to get the lifeboat free, so he called for help.

'It felt such a relief when we decided to help each other,' said Sara. The two walked hand in hand towards the water and darkness. 'And then he said, 'If we get through this, I promise to take you to dinner in Stockholm.' 'That's good,' I said, then we threw each other into the water and lost each other.'

Both became entangled in lifelines in the sea. Sara lost her lifejacket and was about to go down. 'It was all black in front of me, then I groped with my hands over my head - and then the lifeboat was there. To my left was a head, and I asked, 'Who is it?' 'It's Kent,' he answered and I said 'congratulations'. Then I helped him into the lifeboat and he helped me.'

The two kept alive through the night by hugging each other and talking. 'Then in the morning we saw helicopters. A helicopter came for us, too. It was simply wonderful.'

Military survival experts have praised the couple's teamwork. 'To create togetherness, sit near each other, talk to each other to keep the brain going is important in order to survive,' said army survival expert Lars Falt. Kent said he 'even made jokes'.

They are expected to leave hospital - and make their date - very soon.

(Photographs omitted)