Skip to main content

Rescuers search for missing after deadly Hong Kong ferry crash

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 7:47 AM EDT, Wed October 3, 2012
  • A passenger ferry collided with a vessel in Hong Kong's crowded harbor
  • The death toll has risen to 38, Hong Kong authorities say
  • Authorities are searching for countless others who are missing
  • Police have arrested seven crew members on suspicion of negligence

Are you there? Share your story

Hong Kong (CNN) -- They stepped onto the evening ferries in Hong Kong's crowded harbor to watch the sky light up with fireworks to celebrate China's National Day. Instead, the night ended in chaos and tragedy.

Two ferries collided Monday night, upending one of the vessels and sending passengers into the water. At least 38 people died. Rescuers picked up 123 survivors and are still searching for a countless number of others who are missing.

Passengers on board the ferries said they had only moments to escape.

"First it was up to here and then here. The water rose so quickly," one woman, who declined to be named, told CNN affiliate i-Cable. "We thought we were going to die for sure."

Hong Kong to investigate ferry crash
Mourners accompanied by Taoist priests take boats on Thursday, October 4, to go to the scene of the boat collision that killed 38 people off Lamma Island, near Hong Kong, on October 1. They throw paper offerings for the dead into the sea. Mourners accompanied by Taoist priests take boats on Thursday, October 4, to go to the scene of the boat collision that killed 38 people off Lamma Island, near Hong Kong, on October 1. They throw paper offerings for the dead into the sea.
Deadly Hong Kong ferry crash
Photos: Deadly Hong Kong ferry crash Photos: Deadly Hong Kong ferry crash
Boats crash, dozens dead in Hong Kong
Deadly ferry crash in Hong Kong
Celebration turns tragic in Hong Kong

The boat rolled violently before it partially sank.

"I opened the window and pushed a child out. I put a life jacket on him and pushed him out first," he told i-Cable. "At the time, it was very chaotic. The boat was completely standing straight up in the water. It was chaotic. All the tables and chairs were everywhere. It was like a slide; everything was sliding down."

Read more: Survivors recount chaos, horror of ferry collision

Authorities are investigating what caused the crash, Hong Kong's most lethal maritime accident in more than 40 years. Police have arrested seven crew members from the vessels on suspicion of endangering passengers.

The collision involved a passenger ferry traveling from Hong Kong Island to Lamma Island and a vessel owned by the Hong Kong Electric Company, which was carrying company employees and their families to watch the scheduled fireworks display. Government officials said it occurred off Lamma's coast about 8:20 p.m.

Photos: Deadly Hong Kong ferry crash

"I thought we'd hit a rock or a lighthouse," said Chris Head, a teacher who was on the passenger ferry. He said the vessel went from what felt like full speed to "an abrupt halt."

Head said the force of the impact threw him out of his seat at the back of the ferry, which was not very full of people.

As the damaged ferry began to move toward a pier in the small town of Yung Shue Wan on Lamma, Head said, he could see the other boat had started to sink into the water vertically, like the Titanic.

"It was very dark," he said. "There were very few lights on board."

According to the Hong Kong Fire Services Department, which led the rescue, the vessel began to sink quickly after the impact. It said low visibility and many obstacles on board made work difficult for rescuers.

Map: Collision site  Map: Collision site
Map: Collision siteMap: Collision site

"After 10 minutes out, a boat crashed into ours from the side at very high speed," one male survivor from the accident told the South China Morning Post, a local newspaper. "The rear of the ferry started to sink. I suddenly found myself deep under the sea. I swam hard and tried to grab a life buoy. I don't know where my two kids are."

Residents on Lamma, a lightly populated island southwest of Hong Kong Island, reported being awakened in the middle of the night by the massive rescue operation going on offshore.

Were you there? Share your stories, images and videos.

On Tuesday, the front of the stricken vessel was still sticking out of the water, tethered to a barge equipped with a crane just a few hundred meters from the coast of Lamma. Emergency services boats surrounded the scene, and divers conducted a search.

Despite a hole torn in its bow, the passenger ferry was able to dock safely after the crash. Government officials have not confirmed whether passengers aboard that vessel were injured, but Head said nobody around him appeared to have been hurt.

The narrow sea lanes leading into Hong Kong's main deepwater harbor are some of the busiest in Asia, with giant commercial freighters, ocean liners, passenger ferries and private boats of all sizes sharing the waters.

Hong Kong is home to more than 200 outlying Islands, including Lamma. Hong Kong Island is on the south side of Victoria harbor, with Kowloon forming its northern shore. North of Kowloon lie the New Territories, which stretch all the way to mainland China.

Monday's crash is Hong Kong's most lethal maritime accident since 1971, when 88 people died after the ferry Fat Shan capsized between Hong Kong and Macau amid a typhoon.

CNN's Paul Armstrong, Jethro Mullen, Judy Kwon, Pamela Boykoff and Mark Morgenstein contributed to this report.

Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:26 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
Advocates say the exam includes unnecessarily invasive and irrelevant procedures -- like a so-called "two finger" test.
updated 7:09 PM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Supplies of food, clothing and fuel are running short in Damascus and people are going hungry as the civil war drags on.
updated 1:01 PM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
Supporters of Richard III want a reconstruction of his head to bring a human aspect to a leader portrayed as a murderous villain.
updated 10:48 AM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Robert Fowler spent 130 days held hostage by the same al Qaeda group that was behind the Algeria massacre. He shares his experience.
updated 12:07 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
As "We are the World" plays, a video shows what looks like a nuclear attack on the U.S. Jim Clancy reports on a bizarre video from North Korea.
The relationship is, once again, cold enough to make Obama's much-trumpeted "reset" in Russian-U.S. relations seem thoroughly off the rails.
Ten years on, what do you think the Iraq war has changed in you, and in your country? Send us your thoughts and experiences.
updated 7:15 AM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Musician Daniela Mercury has sold more than 12 million albums worldwide over a career span of nearly 30 years.
Photojournalist Alison Wright travelled the world to capture its many faces in her latest book, "Face to Face: Portraits of the Human Spirit."
updated 7:06 PM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Europol claims 380 soccer matches, including top level ones, were fixed - as the scandal widens, CNN's Dan Rivers looks at how it's done.
updated 7:37 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
That galaxy far, far away is apparently bigger than first thought. The "Star Wars" franchise will get two spinoff movies, Disney announced.
updated 7:27 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
It's an essential part of any trip, an activity we all take part in. Yet almost none of us are any good at it. Souvenir buying is too often an obligatory slog.