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Fiji Time: 11:04 PM on Thursday 24 April

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Four last seen hanging for life

Tevita Vuibau
Tuesday, December 04, 2012

THE last time Filipe Koroi saw the other men on the ill-fated Yavu Youth vessel, he was swimming away from them towards Wakaya Island to call for help.

The Batiki District School teacher had accompanied the group of Public Works Department employees and the captain of the ill-fated vessel on their trip from Batiki to Levuka.

The PWD employees, who were on Batiki for some development projects, were on their way to pick up their rations from the old capital. He was on his way to pick up his wages, sent by money order from Suva to the Post Office on Ovalau.

Tragedy struck when the sea turned against them two hours into their return journey.

"The boat sank about three on Saturday afternoon. The waves were just too big and they came into the boat," Mr Koroi said.

"When the boat sank, I grabbed hold of a 20-litre container and I told the guys to stick together.

"One of the boys went missing as soon as the boat went under.

"So I went ahead to try and get help from Wakaya. That was the last time I saw all of them together," he said.

They were holding on to a piece of plywood.

Mr Koroi would spend the next few hours swimming towards Wakaya. However, when he neared the reef close to the island, the current swept him back out to sea.

"Then slowly the lights of Wakaya began to get smaller and smaller as the current took me," Mr Koroi explained.

The current would take Mr Koroi all the way back to Levuka. He recalled seeing the lighthouse of the old capital around three on Sunday morning.

"I could see all the lights at the wharf and the lights from the houses and I thought I would make it to land there but the current took me out again to the sea."

During his ordeal, Mr Koroi said he was missed twice by search and rescue operations, once by a low-flying plane and the second time by a naval vessel.

"By that time I was near Natokalau, I could see the lampposts, the roads and houses. That was about five on Sunday afternoon."

He would eventually make it past the reef and into the lagoon but not after feeling the wrath of the waves along the reef.

"I was hit from all sides by waves. At one point I was spinning from the impact. I drank alot of sea water trying to get past the reef there."

Mr Koroi said he eventually made it to shore, but chose to swim further up as the spot he landed on was rocky.

"After I landed I had to use the moonlight to find the road and I followed that road to Natokalau.

"The people in the village were surprised when I was knocking at their doors at three in the morning."