Couple return to scene of Boxing Day Tsunami

Stephen Craig

A couple, who helped save lives when the Boxing Day Tsunami struck their holiday resort, are again spending Christmas in the hotel where they had a brush with death.

Along with other survivors and relatives of people who died, they will take part in a ceremony on the beach at the time waves engulfed the island of Phuket in Thailand 11 years ago.

Two hundred and fifty people were killed on the island and in total a quarter of a million lost their lives in the Tsunami caused by an earthquake underneath the Indian Ocean.

Stephen and Jackie Craig, who live in County Durham, started spending their Christmas at the Thavorn Palm Beach hotel in 1999. For them the morning of Boxing Day 2004 began as normal by the hotel swimming pool, but it very quickly changed.

“There was suddenly a lot of commotion on the beach – the hotel was just across the road – and all the umbrellas and sunbeds were being lifted off and onto the main road with the first of the two waves. People were being thrown everywhere. There was no warning at all. The wave just came hurtling towards you,” said Stephen.

They found a safe spot in the entrance of the hotel and began pulling people out of the water as they rushed past. One of them was a woman they recognised. She worked on the beach as a masseuse. “We saw her – she was being swept away by the wave and all the rubbish – and grabbed her and there were two German tourists who we managed to pull in as well,” he said.

The next day the hotel guests went to give blood at the local hospital which was treating scores of injured residents and tourists and caring for the bodies of the dead.

Stephen, 51, is the general manager of Gazelle Travel in Durham City. He has worked in the travel business for 33 years and helps find his customers holidays in some of the best hotels in the world, but said he and Jackie will always travel back to the same one in Phuket: “We have that attachment. There are other people like us, who had been there before and were there in 2004, who also go back. The Thai people are fantastic and they need tourism because that’s the only real source of work there.”

Nearly all of the hotel staff from 11 years ago have remained and the masseuse who was plucked to safety still works on the beach. “We see her every year. She always waves hello but I assume that, because of what she was going through, she probably didn’t know who pulled her out as there were so many people and it was so chaotic,” he said.

“Like a lot of people I’d never even heard of a Tsunami before. We were obviously really shaken up but so grateful that we survived.”