Mentawai Tsunami: A Survivor’s Story


Almost a year ago, it will be one year exactly on October 25, 2011, a tsunami tore through Macaronis, destroying the resort, a luxury charter boat, and doing substantial damage, aside from inflicting yet another blow to the psyche of a region well aware of its precarious vicinity to tempestuous fault lines.

A former crew member of the MV Midas, the fated vessel, recalls the events as they unfurled: “I have two Birthdays, the date I was born and the day I survived the tsunami in the Mentawai.” This is his story.

“We had gone to anchor in the quiet of the bay and were in our bunks, when some of us felt the earthquake. Not thinking much of it as it felt like a minor tremor, we went to sleep. Suddenly the captain was yelling at us to wake us up as he had spotted the approaching white water of the first wave of the tsunami. We ran to get everyone suited up in life-jackets and were in the process of hauling up the anchor but had too little time. Ten minutes after the earthquake, the white water hit us.

Due to the wind that evening, we had gone to anchor parallel to another boat in the bay, the Freedom. With the water sucking out preceding the tsunami, the two vessels had spun around and suddenly lay one in front of the other, with the Midas closest to shore. When the first wall of water hit, the other ship was stripped of its anchor and due to its position, sort of surfed the incoming water right into MV Midas. Remember that everyone was still onboard both boats, there was nowhere to go safely, it was pretty crazy.

When the collision occurred, the impact was to the stern (the back) of our ship. The captain warned us to stay onboard yelling “don’t jump!” Unfortunately some of the crew misunderstood and jumped. I jumped in to help my cousin who could not swim well. The crash started a fire on our boat, which quickly grew in intensity. At this point the captain ordered us to abandon ship and we grabbed surfboards and other flotation devices. Then the second wave of the tsunami hit. We tried to form groups and hold on to each other for safety, but the impact of the waves separated us. Luckily, after this wave had passed we saw we were only a few meters apart and could swim back to each other.

Then a third wave hit dragging us all into the mangrove forest. We were swimming in between trees and debris in the dark. All we could see was the fire from the boat. In hindsight it was apparent that a total of four waves hit Macaroni’s Bay, but we never registered the fourth impact.

So here we were in the dark, in the mangrove, knowing that crocodiles live there: A somewhat stressful situation. We tried to put wooden debris together to climb into the trees, to get out of the water, out of reach of any hungry creatures. But every time we would climb up, the wood would collapse. We finally lighted on the idea of putting the surfboards we had on top of the wood and managed to climb up. We yelled to try to find others. It was very cold and all sorts of bugs and animals were crawling all over us in the dark, it was awful.

After about 45 minutes we heard other voices yelling in the distance so we knew others had made it. We had to get out of the cold and wet so we decided to risk it and swim toward the resort. While swimming in the dark we hear an almighty splash and I am pretty sure that it was a crocodile, but it was probably as scared as us after the tsunami and luckily we did not have any closer encounters. We kept swimming and kept quiet so as not to scare ourselves into panic.

We got to the bay and could see the burning ship and met other people from our boat. Some were afraid of another tsunami and headed inland, to higher ground. Others, including myself, wanted to go to the resort. In the distance we could see the lights of another ship. With the glare of the fire we realized they would not be able to spot the lights on our life-jackets, so I ran up the beach away from the fire, to signal using my life-jacket. It was terrifying to see the boat then leave. Luckily they did see us and they came back with a dinghy to pick us up. After we picked up those who had gone inland and the people whose voices we had heard earlier, we were taken to safety on their ship. Two people from our boat were still missing at this point.

We all asked each other if we had seen the two in the water, as we were worried that they may have been asleep in the cabins. After a while, the ship had communication with the Freedom, the boat that had rammed the Midas, and luckily the two missing persons were with them.

The Midas had essentially saved the Freedom. The impact of the collision gave the Freedom time to power back over some of the tsunami waves. Each wall of water driving it closer to shore, but the captain acted quickly and managed to back the vessel up into deeper water each time.

Thankfully all the crew and all the guests from the Midas, the Freedom and other boats as well as the resort survived the tsunami.”

Our story-teller prefers to rename anonymous, but is still working on a boat in the Mentawais. He loves the islands, hopes to have a ship of his own one day and urges surfers to come and enjoy the beauty they have to offer.

The kind staff of the Quest 1 shared their photos of the fateful morning and the aftermath to illustrate the story. The vessel was quick to the scene that day, helping survivors and providing supplies and support to all. The Quest 1 is the crown of the Mentawai charters, providing the most luxurious accommodation and facilities and giving back to the local community. If you want a trip to remember, book your Mentawai adventure onboard the Quest 1.

By: T.

Text: T. | Photos: Neptune Adventures | Video: ArtifactProductions


  • Mentawai Tsunami: A Survivor’s Story



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