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Navy Rescue Finale, Vanuavatu Sisters Tell: How We Survived Near-Death Experience Part 2

The only thing that changed for the Vanuavatu sisters on their second night out at sea was the weather. It was worse off. The rain poured hard on them. The waves relentless.
22 May 2020 10:26
Navy Rescue Finale, Vanuavatu Sisters Tell: How We Survived Near-Death Experience Part 2
Lute Tubuna and Liliana Gade today. Photo: Ronald Kumar

The second night

The only thing that changed for the Vanuavatu sisters on their second night out at sea was the weather.

It was worse off. The rain poured hard on them. The waves relentless.

Sleep was impossible in the darkness.

Rainwater sustained them.

“We would cup our hands together and drink whatever we managed to capture,” the younger of the two sisters, Liliana Gade said.

Tears and heartache

At Taira Village, their mother Virikoro Taubale held on to hope whenever she looked into the eyes of her granddaughter, Sorowale Tagilala Divititinana Lomani. She was eight-months old.

Her cries had alerted the family that the sisters were missing.

The inclement weather did not dampen the prayers from every household in the village.

News from Suva that the punt was found empty had Ms Taubale in tears. She found solace in God.

“I refused to believe what I was told. I held on to the hope that my daughters were in the mighty hand of God.”

Her husband, Laitiasa Sorowale was sickly at the time. Every now and again he would blurt out: “Isa Turaga… ko rau na luvequ.” (Oh Lord … my children).

Day Two

Lute Tubuna grew weaker as the hours passed.

The weather did not change. Drenched and hungry, the pair tried to be strong for each other.

The shark they saw on Day One was still visible.

I could almost touch it, Ms Gade said.

“I was not scared of it anymore.”

In the early afternoon, the sisters saw a plane.

“We assumed they were looking for us. To make sure they saw us, I took my sulu and tied it to the only tool in the boat – a spear. As soon as Liliana held up the spear, my sulu flew away.

“We waited for the plane to come around again – but it didn’t,” Ms Tubuna said.

The aircraft was, in fact, Vanua Air which was chartered by the Republic of Fiji Military Forces Naval Division to conduct a search in the area for the RFNS Kula search and rescue operation.

A Fiji Times report said the sisters were found 15 nautical miles northwest of Vanuavatu Island.

Third night

The foul weather did not ease.

In his five-part series, ‘A Day I Will Never Forget’, Rear Admiral Viliame Naupoto who was the Commanding Officer of the search and rescue vessel, RFNS Kula, made the following description when they arrived at the search datum at 10pm: “The sea was very rough, it was howling, raining and the visibility was almost nil, therefore, making a night search impossible. We switched on our search lights and directed them to the immediate front and set a lookout routine.”

Liliana Gaden and Lute Tubuna back in 1995, after the rescue. Photo: National Archives of Fiji

Liliana Gade and Lute Tubuna back in 1995, after the rescue. Photo: National Archives of Fiji

Ms Gade shouted at the top of her voice to attract the sailors.

Nothing worked.

“The ship was right next to us. I could see the people on board as the lights were on.

“My sister was weak, so I tried my best and shouted as hard as I can but no one could hear me.

“Maybe it’s from the sound of the engine,” Ms Gade said.

“I touched the stern of the ship and again shouted as hard as I can – but the strong currents threw us away from the ship.

“If the ship was moving, it would have hit us. We were lucky that they were anchored and were moving slowly.

“But, I was surprised that they could not see us.”

Ms Tubuna said she was thankful that her sister did not decide to jump as a spur of the moment reaction with help so near.

Ms Gade said the thought of the shark swimming near them prevented her from doing so.

“We saw that some of the crew were standing on the side of the ship looking out to sea – but they could not find us because of the waves.”

Ms Tubuna said the waves that hit them was like being thrown into a hole.

“I was so happy to see the ship as I was getting weaker and weaker. When we were thrown away from the ship by the waves, our silent prayers intensified.”

Younger sister Ms Gade said the ship seemed to move further away from them.

“This was when I started to lose hope because the punt was now quickly taking in water.”

Both sisters were submerged in water.

Attempts to bail out water in the punt only drained the little strength they had left.

Edited by Naisa Koroi

TOMORROW: Final chapter

Feedback: rosi.doviverata@fijisun.com.fj

Also read:

Navy Rescue Finale, Vanuavatu Sisters Tell: How We Survived Near-Death Experience Part 1

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