Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visits survivors on Tuesday of the overturned ship at a hospital in central Hubei province on Tuesday. Photo: Xinhua
Chen Sheng (alias), 52, had no idea about what was going on when his cup placed on the table slid to the ground. A few seconds later, he realized what was happening when river water poured into his cabin. He said to himself, "I must swim out of the sinking ship, and I must see the sky again."
Chen insisted that it was his habit of smoking that saved him from the disaster on Monday, the day Beijing rolled out China's toughest smoking ban.
At around 9 pm Monday, a crew member of the ship, the Eastern Star, reminded Chen of closing the window before sleeping because of the rainstorm, which had caused cancelations of some activities outside the cabin. While many passengers complained about the bad weather, Chen and his wife enjoyed the journey instead.
Due to the smoking ban in the cabin, Chen had to wait for the rain to stop so he could go to the deck to have a cigarette. But it was still raining at around 9:30 pm, when Chen's wife fell asleep and he got himself a cup of water and prepared to go to bed. Suddenly, his cup slid to the ground and the cabin was soon glutted with the crushing sound.
"I felt something like a fire hydrant hit the back of my waist, and then a blast of water pushed me forward. The cabin was immediately full of river water, and I knew the ship was sinking," Chen said.
He strenuously swam to the direction of light and finally poked his head above the surface of the river. But the 52-year-old man, who has been a soldier, clearly knew that he would likely be taken away by the undercurrent or might suffer from a shock due to hypothermia.
Chen, together with another old man, grabbed a big lifebuoy and put his feet into a wooden bucket floating on the river. He thought anything lighter than the water could save his life.
"Suddenly, we saw a (marine surveillance) ship. We believed we would be saved from death. We swam to the ship and cried for help," Chen said.
They grasped a fixed mooring rope, but had no strength to climb up the ship. They desperately slapped the shipboard and were later found and saved by the marine police.
Chen burst into tears after he made a call to his son to inform his wife's death. He could not remember how he made a decision in face of the disaster and whether his wife was still on bed at that time, Chen said. The only thing he was conscious of was "swimming out of the sinking ship".
(The article is translated and edited by Ding Yi)