FROM THE FRONTLINE
EXCLUSIVE By JENNIFER HUXLEY
SITTING in a boat in deep water off the west coast of Phuket, Bill O'Leary watched an eight-metre tsunami engulf Phang Nga Bay.
The father of four and husband of Grafton local Carolyn O'Leary (nee Hewitt) was in a speed boat at sea near Phi Phi when the waves hit.
Mr O'Leary said that because his vessel was in deep water the waves posed little danger to him and he was able to 'ride out the swell'.
"We watched the six to seven-metre waves hit Krabi Province, but from offshore we had no way of telling that the impact would be so bad," he said.
"In Phang Nga Bay, I witnessed the entire sand headland of Koh Yao Yai getting washed away into the sea and saw Koh Hong fill with a five-metre surge and empty, producing fierce boiling rapids. It was like the ocean was heavy breathing.
"I thank God that my wife and four kids survived. The surge stopped some 12 metres before our house at the back of Surin, which is 500 metres inland."
Mr O'Leary revealed that his employer, the Amanpuri Resort Hotel, was 'one of the few hotels that did not have any loss of life', something that he attributes to the 'heroic actions' of one of his fellow employees.
"Before the tsunamis hit, I had a call on my mobile from Richie (Amanpuri Resort Hotel employee), saying that the water on the beach had receded 250metres. He wasn't sure what it meant or what to do.
"Water going back like that is a classic tell-tale sign of a tsunami. I told him to get everyone off the beach and on to high ground. He called back to say that the people on the beach, people like millionaires, wouldn't move.
"I told him to say that if they didn't move, they would die. It's the old mantra ? if the big waves are coming, the safest place is in deep water or head to the hills."