Hamish McKenzie - lucky, Alexandra

Monday, December 27, 2004


A close friend of mine was swept away from his breakfast table on a Thai beach by the most devastating natural disaster in my living memory. In an email to his parents in Alexandra, at 8.37pm while we waited for any news, he wrote: "I am very lucky to be alive". Lucas always was the master of understatement.

Lucas was on a diving holiday on the west coast of Thailand in a resort called Ko Lanta, about 60km south of Phuket. News reports told us that Thailand's tourist beaches around Phuket were badly affected by the tsunami. Nearly 400 hundred confirmed dead, over 1000 injured, thousands still missing, including at least 100 divers.

Lucas had planned to go to the Phi Phi islands for some diving expeditions. He was just about to board a bus for Ko Phi Phi, as the islands are called, when the driver told him it was too crowded and he'd be better off in Ko Lanta where it was less crowded and more relaxed. Bloody good job. Almost everyone on Ko Phi Phi was killed by the wave.

So, Ko Lanta it was. He was having a great time. Then this morning, as he munched his breakfast at a restaraunt on the beach, he noticed the first tidal wave. Didn't seem that big. But the second got him. The speed and force of the wave was amazing, he said. It's times like these when you actually realise how abused words like "amazing" actually are. He was "taken on a ride" and was lucky to avoid cars and trucks carrying bamboo. He managed to scramble to safety. One lady from his resort was killed, and many of his friends had very close calls.

"I think I'm still in shock," he wrote.

He was taking refuge with many others in a house on a hill in Ko Lanta. They were running out of water and would probably be stranded in the area for two or three days, but they were alive.

Sitting with Lucas' parents and brother, waiting for that call, was excrutiating. Nothing could be said to improve the situation. It was a horrible waiting game. Phone lines into and out of Thailand were jammed. His Japanese cellphone didn't work. Cruelly, even the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' hotline was inaccessible. The final respite came silently, via the superhighway, appearing as coded binary in an inbox on a waiting laptop. Lucas' brother Dean announced the arrival of the precious missive. His parents breathed for the first time since 2am. There were embraces, tears, and afterwards, wine.

What a day.