On December 26, 2004, one of history's greatest natural disasters to hit the
world occurred on the floor of the Indian Ocean, when an earthquake so huge that
it is thought to have caused a shift in the earth's gravitational field, created
a giant tsunami wave that in its path, destroyed homes, villages, farm land,
buildings and life, killing over 260,000 people in the countries of Indonesia,
India, Somalia, Tanzania, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sumatra, Kenya, Mozambique and
A few days after the tsunami hit, it was feared that former schoolteacher,
John Grant, 46, from Balfron, Stirlingshire, Scotland, had become a victim of
the disaster while vacationing on Ko Phi Phi Island in Thailand. However,
it emerged that despite crush injuries to his arm, leg and throat, John had
carried out several acts of bravery.
John saved a woman from a collapsing cafe, brought another girl to safety in
a palm tree, swam out to sea to commandeer a boat, saving at least another
half-dozen lives, and led a party of 60 to safety in the hills.
"I had crush injuries and open wounds to my right leg, my arm was crushed,
and my thorax was crushed, but I didn't feel the pain because there was a lot of
adrenalin pumping. I put my survival down to the fact that I don't think I
John's account of the day the tsunami hit: "I suddenly became aware that
people were running around screaming. I looked out of the cafe and I saw a
boat coming up the street. It was a shocking sight. I looked closer
and there was what I can only describe as a bulldozer - a wall of water carrying
tables, chairs, people, fridge-freezers, garments, you name it, all in this wall
of water two metres high and 50 metres away. There were six people in the
cafe and I screamed to them to run and I grabbed hold of a Swedish woman next to
me and she ran with me. We were the only two people to get out of the cafe
The building collapsed and pinned her husband down. I tried to free
him, but a concrete beam was lying across his chest and I wasn't strong enough
to lift it, and more debris was falling all the time. Then the wave came
over and submerged me. I was hit with a freezer, which landed on top of me
and knocked the wind from me. I ingested a lot of water and sand but
actually managed to struggle free. The Swedish lady with me was distraught
because her husband had disappeared beneath the mass, and bubbles were coming
up, so when the first wave receded she implored me to go and find his body.
I found it, and he was clearly dead, with major open organ wounds."
John clambered on to the corrugated iron roof of another collapsed building,
which was being buoyed up by the wave. "At one point, my leg was trapped
between two roofs and I had to forcibly free myself. There were some Thai
people who were there, who seemed petrified - just frozen, numb from what had
happened, so they didn't really get into action in a sensible way. Their
families and their livelihoods had gone and they were just in shock."
"My immediate, initial reaction was to try and save life. I swam out
about 200 meters to sea and got one of their "long-tailed" boats which had the
ignition keys still in it. I brought it back in and rescued half a dozen
people and took them out to ships which were berthed way out from the main bay
and couldn't come in because of the amount of debris and the strong currents.
Then I noticed there were two Thai men who had a very powerful speed-boat.
I swam over and asked them if we could use the boat to rescue people who were
still on the shore and moaning in agony - but these guys wouldn't participate.
They were looting, going round the bay, identifying suitcases, bursting them
open, and taking valuables. I tried to get the boat from them, but they
drove it away from me so I swam back to the shore to see if there was anybody
there to be helped. Through the night, we could hear buildings collapse
and people screaming. We were eaten alive by mosquitoes, and I am now
being monitored for malaria."
With his wounds infected, John was taken on a ferry to Phuket and then rushed
to hospital. Many of his wounds were cleaned and stitched up without
anesthetic. He was then bandaged up, given a parcel of medication and
asked to report to the British Embassy.
With no clothes apart from his bathing trunks and a pair of flip-flops, John
had to rely on two generous Royal Bank of Scotland staff to wire him money to
get home. The bank itself would not help, saying it was a public holiday.
"Fortunately, I am single, and I count myself lucky that I wasn't out there
in Ko Phi Phi with anybody else. I was a sole agent and that allowed me
basically to get on with things without considering the needs of others with