Survivor Stories

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This is a partial transcript from "On the Record," December 29, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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ALISYN CAMEROTA, GUESY HOST: Our next guests were sailing off the island of Phuket (search) in Thailand when the tsunami (search) struck Sunday. Julie Sobolewski and her son, Casey, join us from San Diego.

Julie, you two were sailing with a friend. Tell us how far you were off shore and what you saw when the tsunami hit.

JULIE SOBOLEWSKI, TSUNAMI SURVIVOR: We had just left a little island where we'd had breakfast that morning. We were about a half a mile from shore and about a half a mile from the next small, little island that we were heading to snorkel when a huge wave came and took out the sandbar that we were heading towards.

CAMEROTA: And Casey, after the wave struck, many of the smaller wooden boats around you broke apart, but not yours. So you guys started helping stranded people. Explain to us how you rescued them and what they were saying as you were.

CASEY SOBOLEWSKI, TSUNAMI SURVIVOR: Well, as we were coming up to the event, you know, there was all these long-tail boats, you know, full of tourists and Thai locals. And when the wave came and shattered the boats, we were close enough that I was able to rush into a dingy that we were pulling behind our sailboat and rushed out and started pulling in the people. And it seemed like, you know, there were probably about 40 people floating in the water, ages 4 to 30. And all the locals were yelling children and pointing at the children, you know, and that was my first goal or task, if you would, was to get as many of these kids into my boat and onto our sailboat.

CAMEROTA: So your strategy was to first save the children, then you went for the adults. Was everyone hysterical? Were people calm? What were they saying?

CASEY SOBOLEWSKI: Kids were screaming. All the women were crying. When I pulled the people into my boat, all the women and the children were just holding onto me. It was very emotional. It was very emotional.

CAMEROTA: I can imagine. Julie, by pulling people out of the water, you and Casey and your friend, did you fear that you were putting your own lives in danger?

JULIE SOBOLEWSKI: Not at the time. We were just really busy finding people and getting them on the boat and figuring out what to do next and continued searching the area. Really didn't take time to be afraid.

CAMEROTA: Yes. Did you see examples of those heart-breaking stories that we're hearing about, about loved ones and couples being together, and in an instant, in the blink of an eye, being separated and not being able to find each other again?

JULIE SOBOLEWSKI: Not so much. When all of these people were in the water and there was another big wave coming, it was apparent that if we didn't get them on our boat and the second wave hit them, that they would be separated and separated from the items that were keeping them afloat. So we were concentrating on getting everyone we could see into the boat.

CAMEROTA: And Casey, how many people do you estimate that you guys rescued?

CASEY SOBOLEWSKI: I would say 50 people. If we didn't pull them out of the water, we rescued them from stranded rocks that they had been slipped away to.

CAMEROTA: That's incredible. In some ways, do you think that it might have been safer out at sea than on shore when the tsunami hit?

CASEY SOBOLEWSKI: It was definitely safer in deep water. You know, another mile out past this island, the water gets to about 23 meters deep. Where we were at, it was two, three meters deep. So when the tsunamis came and hit the reef and the shore, that's what caused the waves and that's where the devastation actually came from.

CAMEROTA: Julie, you say that you saw a couple of other sailboats in the area, but that they didn't stop to help those people stranded. I imagine they were too terrified?

JULIE SOBOLEWSKI: I'm not sure if they knew what to do. We were hearing a lot of rumors about another big one coming, one coming at two o'clock, and then at three o'clock, we heard one's coming at five o'clock. And we didn't know what to do or where to go, and the other boats didn't, either.

CAMEROTA: OK. So tell us how you got back into shore, and then the scene that you saw once you were back in shore.

JULIE SOBOLEWSKI: Well, we were trying to find a couple that we had met earlier and get some information from them on what to do next. And so Casey stayed in the big boat and deep water, and John took the dingy and took me ashore, back to where we'd had breakfast that morning. And there was just devastation. The restaurants were completely obliterated, and there were boats thrown all the way up on shore, and just massive destruction and eerily few people around.

CASEY SOBOLEWSKI: The Internet cafe that I had spent the morning at, talking on instant message with my girlfriend and my best friend, was gone. If we hadn't been on that, spent 15 minutes talking to them, we would have been in the trouble area, and who knows if we would have been around.

CAMEROTA: And you're talking to us tonight from California. You're back at home. How did you get home so quickly? And what are your thoughts, now that you're safe at home?

CASEY SOBOLEWSKI: As soon as we got back to Phuket, to actual shore, you know, the first thing we wanted to do was go home. And we called China Airlines, and they were more than helpful in getting us home right away. And our main concerns and thoughts is we just wanted to get home and tell everybody that we know that we're safe and we love them and we're very grateful.

CAMEROTA: And Julie, you, too? You must be terribly relieved to be home.

JULIE SOBOLEWSKI: It's interesting. When we got to shore, we had no idea at the time the extent of what was going on, and we didn't even know that the United States had heard anything of what was happening. And so when we called our parents and found out what they'd gone through that day, sitting there watching this news all day, not knowing where we were, I think it was harder on them than it was on us. So it's a great relief to let them know that we're safe.

CAMEROTA: We can imagine. Well, thank you for sharing your story with us, Julie and Casey.



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