Holiday horror in paradise
By SAMANTHA TURNBULL firstname.lastname@example.org AS THE ferry began to sink, Michelle Walker had to make a decision: Jump or burn alive. The Ballina woman, 33, was with her mother, Wendy Walker, of Tweed Heads, off Thailand's Phi Phi Island when their boat caught fire on April 24. However, rather than panic, Michelle became concerned for the welfare of her fellow 80 passengers. "There were flames and smoke everywhere," said the Country Energy worker. "My mum and I held hands and jumped and I felt pretty safe once I was in the water. "Then I noticed a few people on their own and one lady was crying because she couldn't swim so I grabbed her hand and told her to relax." That woman was South Australian credit union supervisor Chris Richards, 58, who has been searching for Michelle since arriving home. Chris and her husband, Michael, also 58, this week wrote to The Northern Star asking for help to track down their heroine. Yesterday, The Star found Michelle who was reunited with the couple via email. Chris said she doesn't know how she would've coped without Michelle's help. "I'm scared of getting my face wet in the shower," Chris said. "So when I saw Michael jump into the water I panicked and thought 'I'm going to die, I'm going to die'." A fireman yelled that there wasn't much time before the boat would sink completely, so Chris closed her eyes and leapt into the ocean. However, when she landed, Chris became more hysterical because she couldn't find Michael. "I was floundering and panicking," she said. "Then Michelle called out to me to grab her hand and she started holding me up and calming me down." For 20 minutes, Michelle soothed a frantic Chris. "Michelle was supporting me and her mother and telling us to keep holding her hands," Chris said. "She kept saying 'we'll all be OK'." Michelle played down her heroism when she heard Chris's praise. "It's what you do ? when you see someone in trouble you want to help them," she said. From the water, the three women watched the ferry burn and sink in less than two minutes. "The heat was intense ? plastic chairs on the deck were melting like butter," Chris said. "But while all this was going on, Michelle was so brilliant." Michael, a police sergeant, was rescued by another boat and met up with Chris, Michelle and Wendy on Phi Phi Island. They spent an hour together but were separated before they had a chance to exchange contact details. Michelle said yesterday she was just as thankful to the couple for their support and would definitely have a coffee with them if they visited the Northern Rivers. "Michael looked after us on the island as well," she said. "They were lovely people and it's lovely to find out they were so appreciative."