British women escaped, only to be shipwrecked again minutes later

The Survivors

For two young British women the foundering of the
Express Samina - tragically, within sight of the sparkling shore lights of the resort island of Paros - was just the beginning. Ten minutes later, they were shipwrecked again.

For two young British women the foundering of the Express Samina - tragically, within sight of the sparkling shore lights of the resort island of Paros - was just the beginning. Ten minutes later, they were shipwrecked again.

Katrina Wallace, 25, and Nicola Gibson-Hosking, 27, last night described how they escaped from the stricken ship in a clapped out life-boat - whose winch got stuck, whose engine was broken, and whose oar rowlock broke - only to be hit by a massive wave which flung everyone into the ocean.

Terrified, the passengers clawed their way out of the water and up onto a rock, only to be swept off again moments later by another wave. Miraculously, this drove them onto another nearby rock, where they sat with a dozen freezing, frightened, soaked ferry passengers - holding hands and huddling together with their knees drawn up - while waves crashed over their heads.

There they stayed - powerless to act, watching the rescue aircraft circling overhead, the flares, and dozens of local fishing boats and pleasure craft which had rushed to the area to find survivors. But several boats were forced to back away for fear of running aground because of the ferocity of the wind and waves.

The pair say it was some three hours before they and the others on the rock, were finally lifted to safety by a Royal Navy helicopter, which whisked them off to the aircraft carrier HMS Invincible, part of a group of British vessels on on exercises in the area.

Yesterday, the waters off Paros - a restless azure expanse flecked with white, still whipped up by a merciless north wind - showed no sign of the tragedy only hours before, although boats and planes were still out searching. The night before, as word of the sinking spread, most of the island-folk had been out on the shoreline, shining car lights into the sea, roving up and down the beaches - trying to do anything they could to avert the tragedy unfolding only a mile offshore.

The two British women, who were travelling the islands together, had just moved onto the deck to sleep under the stars - like the hordes of backpacker tourists who travel the islands every summer. It was, they said, quiet and dark, though very windy. The two were on the front port side - the part of the boat that listed first, a position which helped save their lives.

"There was this big crack," said Ms Wallace, 25, a freelance filmmaker from Hertford, who was making the trip to shoot a Super-8 film in the islands. "We knew something had happened. There was just chaos.

"First we just stood there and tried to keep as calm as possible. People were just running around. They could not find life jackets. There were no instruction signs. Everyone was yelling in Greek. We could not understand what was going on.

"We headed for the life boat. When we got there people were smacking each other out of the way. There were no instructions about life belt or boats. We just used our own initiative. The ferry was going down really quickly, and sank in about 15 minutes.

"After we got in the life boat, the winch got stuck. The boat was rocking from side to side. People panicked, and eight of them jumped out into the water." By now the ship was listing at an angle of 45 degrees.

Finally, their lifeboat set sail, and moved away from the ferry. "The last we saw of the ship, it was tipped up," said Ms Gibson-Hosking, 27, from Derby. Both women held their hands up at an angle of 45 degrees to illustrate this point.

"There were people on the edge of the boat," she continued, "They were trying to pass a baby down. It was just crazy. We were crying out - take the baby, take the baby. But there was nothing we could do."

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