Tsunami awareness
prompts isle skipper
to scrub subsea tour

The part-time Hawaii resident
helps keep 31 Thailand tourists
safe from the waves

The tide was too high and the waters too turbulent for a calm, sunny morning off the small Thai island of Mai Ton.

Chris Hinson suspected something was wrong, but wasn't sure what until he heard from his boss in a spotty cell phone conversation that a massive earthquake had hit off Sumatra.

"As soon as he said that, I knew what was going on," said Hinson, who lives part of the year in Waipahu and is a pilot of a low-powered sub that carries vacationers out to see coral off Mai Ton. "Living in Hawaii, everybody's pretty educated about tsunamis."

Minutes before 31 tourists, including two children and an infant, were to be loaded into his sub, Hinson canceled the trip and told passengers his suspicions.

It was a split-second decision that may have saved the vacationers' lives, but not one they immediately appreciated.

"They thought I was making up some wild story," said Hinson, 35, in a telephone interview from Phuket, Thailand. "Some people were very angry."

Hinson's small sub, like those used to see coral in Hawaii waters, could have been tossed into Mai Ton's reef by the seismic waves that hit Thailand and other countries in southern Asia on Dec. 26. Unlike wind-driven surface waves, a tsunami's surge extends all the way to the ocean floor.

Hinson said the second tsunami to hit Thailand came shortly after the sub's trip was set to begin. The first was hardly noticeable -- a larger-than-average wave that the company's ferrying boat had glided over without a hitch.

Hinson, his crew and passengers spent three hours at sea on the ferrying boat, trying to get through to people onshore for an all-clear. Instead, they got bits of information from relatives and friends about the devastation and the dead.

At about 2:30 p.m., Hinson decided to go into shore. He tied up at one of the only piers left standing in the area. Thirty minutes later the third tsunami hit -- washing over the pier by the time Hinson and the tourists were safely on higher land.

East-West Center Tsunami Relief
American Red Cross Hawaii
Pacific Tsunami Warning Center

U.S. Pacific Command Tsunami Relief

E-mail to City Desk


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