Rallying to the rescue of fishermen

Updated: 2013-10-11 07:41

By Peng Yining in Hainan and He Na, Jiang Xueqing and Wu Wencong in Beijing (China Daily)

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A race against time

Zhao Weilun, vice-director of the helicopter crew on the Peace Ark, said, "The disaster had been ongoing for four days when we joined the rescue operation on Oct 3. Although there was little hope by then, we gave 100 percent effort."

Rallying to the rescue of fishermen

Doctors and nurses stand around a body in silent tribute on the Peace Ark. Zhang Hao / for China Daily

More than 400 members of the crew took turns scanning the surface of the ocean, and the helicopter circled repeatedly over key areas. It was a race against time. Each new discovery caused tremendous excitement and sometimes the search process was an emotional roller coaster. After two hours of searching from the helicopter, Lei discerned something orange floating in the water. "It could have been a person wearing a life vest, so everyone on the helicopter was excited. Sadly, it just turned out to be life vest," he said.

Rallying to the rescue of fishermen

Lei was also sent to search a stranded fishing boat. "I walked up to the boat along a coral reef. The water was up to my neck," he said. "I climbed aboard, but found nothing."

After searching the waters for five days, Peace Ark found five bodies and took charge of five others that had been transferred from other search vessels.

As China's largest hospital ship, Peace Ark's crew includes more than 100 medical professionals. When the first body was discovered on Oct 3, 15 medical staff donned protective clothing and helped to receive the dead fisherman. They cleaned the body, sealed up the dead man's belongings, including a watch and a necklace, and preserved some tissue as a specimen before finally wrapping the body in a white cloth.

"After they wrapped the body, the doctors and nurses rose and stood around in silent tribute, while the waves dashed against the hull and splashed on the deck," said Zhang Hao, a photographer on the ship. "I felt the cruelty of nature, but also the power and greatness of humanity."

After soaking in the briny water for a couple of days, many of the bodies were swollen, and the skin was peeling off some of them. We saw many other details that are too distressing to report.

Although the Peace Ark didn't locate any survivors, it helped to protect the dignity of the dead by preserving their remains, said Wu Haibo, the ship's head nurse, who also participated in the rescue efforts after the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

"I was so sad to see the people who died in the typhoon," she said. "After I had wrapped up the bodies, I said to myself 'Let's take them home'."