Jakarta, Indonesia A mother begged a cargo hand to take her 18-month-old daughter after fire engulfed an Indonesian ferry Thursday, then jumped into the sea along with hundreds of other passengers. Sixteen people died and scores were injured.
Heru, who goes by one name, said he tried to scale a rope with the toddler as smoke billowed around him, but was knocked into the water by a falling passenger. He saw the woman clinging to a water cooler and swam toward her.
"The baby was crying 'Mama! Mama!' and she insisted I hand over the child," he said. Fifteen minutes later, the two disappeared beneath the dark waves. "Now they're gone."
The Levina 1 was carrying 300 passengers when a pre-dawn blaze broke out in a truck on the car deck hours after the ferry left the capital, Jakarta, for the northwestern island of Bangka, port official Sato Bisri said. The cause of the fire was not immediately known.
Remarkably, 275 people were rescued from the Java Sea and the 2,000-ton vessel's charred hull by fishing boats, warships and helicopters, averting a second major maritime disaster in Indonesia in the last several months. In December, a ferry sank in a storm in the Java Sea, killing more than 400 people.
At least 17 people were missing after Thursday's fire, Navy spokesman Hendra Pakan. The search for survivors continued after darkness fell.
"It was terrifying," said Yas Rijal, 33, who was with his wife and son on the upper deck when the fire broke out. "The crew ordered us to put on yellow life vests and we jumped."
Rosiah, 28, who also goes by one name, was among those who did not get a life vest. But as the ferry's deck became hotter, she became increasingly desperate and plunged into the sea with her 5-month-old son.
"I just wanted to save my baby," she said, weeping. "I didn't think of the risk."
"We sank for a long time and by the time we came to the surface, he wasn't breathing," Rosiah said. "He was dead, but I couldn't let go. I held onto him for what felt like an hour before being rescued by a fisherman."
She said she did not know what happened to her husband and two other children.
Most survivors were taken to the port at Jakarta, about 50 miles from where the ship caught fire. The injured were taken to hospitals or cared for at a makeshift treatment center at the port.
Transportation Minister Hatta Rajasa said the ferry carried 300 passengers, but the ship's log indicated there were 228 passengers, 42 trucks and eight cars on board.