SURVIVAL: FOUR HOURS IN A SAMOA LAVA TUBE

By Terry Tavita

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, Oct. 2) - The amazing story of how a 26-year-old tourist survived six hours trapped inside a blowhole in Taga, Savai'i, began to emerge yesterday.

Line Fiala, from Denmark, was swept into the blowhole by a wave last Monday, and her friends lost hope of finding her alive.

But hours later, searching villagers were astonished to find her trying to climb back out of the blowhole after the tide went out.

Savaii is the larger of two islands major islands in Samoa, west of the more populated Upolu.

Leilua Tuitoga, who was one of several people who coordinated the search for her, told how Ms Fiala survived, as related to her by Ms Fiala.

Leilua is the owner of Satuiatua Beach Fales where the group of Auckland University students, including Ms Fiala, were staying.

"Line told me that she lost conscious momentarily and when she came about, she was floating inside a large underwater cave that the lava tube leads to. She clung onto some rocks which turned out to be the roof of the cave. When the waves came in it went right up to her neck leaving her little space to breathe. She did not want to release her grip as she might drift further away from the chute where she fell through. So when the waves went out, she was left dangling in the air.

"Everything was dark and her only sense of direction was where the waves were heading, meaning inland. After about four hours, she told me, the waters started to recede with the tide going out. It was then that she saw a distant shimmer of light. Exhausted, she slowly inched her way along the lava wall towards it.

"Nearing the chute, she released one of her shoes to indicate to others that she was still alive. But the shoe, Leilua said, was taken by those on top as a sign that she was dead and floating somewhere underneath. She said she waited about half an hour, timing the waves, waiting for that one big wave. She released her hold and that big wave pushed her back up to the mouth of the chute."

Local residents say others who have fallen into the blowhole have been crushed by the seas roaring in. Stories of survival are rare - but not unknown.

Ms Fiala sustained a cut to her left leg and bruising to her ribs and neck. She was admitted overnight at the Tuasivi hospital and was released the next day, Leilua said.

The group is now staying at Lano village with a family who invited them, where Ms Fiala is recovering from her injuries and trauma.

The young woman, according to Ms Tuitoga, is still in shock and is having trouble eating.

The incident had begun about 10.30 a.m. on Monday, when the group were taking photos at the blowholes, which have become a major tourist attraction.

Ms Fiala was taking shots on the ocean side of the blowhole, about 10 meters from the chute, Leilua said.

All of a sudden, unbeknown to her, a large, powerful wave crashed on the lava near her washing her over the lava flow and sweeping her into the chute, Leilua said.

"Her friends said she disappeared into the hole screaming while everyone looked on mesmerized. They then panicked and became frantic, not knowing what to do."

Taga villagers were alerted and three members of the group went back to the resort to call the police and diplomatic representatives in Apia.

The Police arrived with several divers and, joined by some village men, began searching the nearby sea.

Hope, Leilua said, was fading.

"Around three o'clock, one of the students called up the Swedish honorary consul Papalii John Ryan to make arrangements to transport her body to Apia when found and for its return overseas, later."

However, at about 4:45 pm as the students were talking with several people at the Taga village malae, several men rushed up to them and said that Ms Fiala had re-emerged from the blowhole.

October 7, 2003

Samoa Observer: www.samoaobserver.ws/

 

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