'Life and death' at sea: log keeps Tonga's 'Aquaman' from going under

By
2 minute read
Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

SYDNEY, Jan 21 (Reuters) - A 57-year-old Tongan man being hailed a real-life Aquaman for surviving 27 hours at sea after Saturday's devastating tsunami struck his island said he went under nine times before latching onto a log and making it to safety.

"On the eighth time I thought, the next time I go underwater that's it, because my arms were the only things that were keeping me above water," said Lisala Folau, who is disabled and cannot walk properly, speaking to Reuters from Tonga's capital, Nuku'alofa.

"So the ninth time I went under and came up and grabbed a log. And that's what kept me going."

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

The eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano killed at least three people and sent tsunami waves rolling across the Tongan archipelago, damaging villages and resorts and knocking out communications for the nation's 105,000 people. read more

Folau, who lived on the isolated island of Atata, with a population of about 60 people, was swept out to sea at around 7 p.m. (0600 GMT) on Saturday. read more

He had climbed a tree to escape a first wave but when he got down, another big wave swept him out.

Lisala Folau (wearing blue printed shirt), a Tongan man who says he swam for around 27 hours after getting swept to sea by Saturday's tsunami, sits with other people of Atata island in Nuku'alofa, Tonga, January 19, 2022 in this picture obtained from social media. Picture taken January 19, 2022. Marian Kupu/Broadcom Broadcasting FM87.5/via REUTERS

"I could hear my son calling from land but I didn't want to answer my son because I didn't want him to swim out to find me," said Folau.

"The waves kept twirling around here and there ... What came to mind is, at sea there is life and death. Until you reach the shore, then you know if you are alive or dead."

Folau said he slowly managed to swim 7.5 km (4.7 miles) to the main island of Tongatapu, reaching the shore 27 hours later at about 10 p.m. on Sunday.

His heroics have gone viral on social media, with one Facebook post calling him a "real life Aquaman", referring to the comic book and film character.

When asked if he knew who Aquaman was, Flolau said he didn't yet.

Reuters was unable to independently verify the events.

Atata, about 8km northwest of Nuku'alofa, or a 30-minute boat ride, has been almost entirely destroyed in the tsunami that hit the islands.

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com
Reporting by Jill Gralow; Editing by Tom Hogue and Karishma Singh

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.