Tongan man survives 28-hour swim after being swept out to sea by tsunami

Headlines 21/01/2022

A Tongan man has been described as the "Tongan Aquaman" for swimming for 28 hours after being swept to sea by the tsunami that devastated Tonga on Saturday.

The man, 57-year-old Lisala Folau, spoke to Tongan media after the ordeal and opened up about his harrowing experience.

Folau lives on the small, isolated island of Atata, which is about 8km northwest of Tonga’s capital Nuku'alofa, or a 30-minute boat ride. Only 61 people lived on the island paradise, which includes the Royal Sunset Island Resort.

Folau was first alerted to the tsunami by his brother, so naturally he hid himself in a tree to wait it out. An initial wave swept through, and after that passed Folau climbed down from the safety of his tree only to be met by an even larger wave shortly after, sweeping him and his family out to sea.

“It was dark and we could not see each other. Very soon I could not hear my niece calling any more, but I could hear my son calling,” he said.

Folau didn’t respond as he didn't want anyone to risk their safety trying to save him.

Extraordinarily, Folau has mobility issues.

“I left everything and try to escape, but bear in mind that I am disabled.

“I can’t walk properly, both my legs are not working properly – and when I can, I believe a baby can walk faster than I,” he said.

“So I just floated, bashed around by the big waves that kept coming. It stayed with my mind if I can cling to a tree or anything and if anything happens and I lose my life, searchers may find me and my family can view my dead body,” he said.

A police boat sped past as Folau waved a rag, but it missed him.

Folau said thinking about his family kept him swimming.

Eventually, Folau reached Tongatapu some time after 9pm on Sunday, where he found a man who was able to get in contact with his family.

“So unexpected that I survived after being washed away, floating and surviving the dangers I just faced,” he said.

Folau thanked God, his family, and his church for giving him the strength to survive.

An image uploaded to Facebook by the man’s daughter showed his journey through the ocean.

She described his missing as a “night of hardship” and she couldn’t stop tears falling while he was missing.

The daughter said she was proud of her father’s bravery and in her post thanked Jesus for protecting him.

Credit to Stuff for the story.