The Sinking of "Ero"

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The Sinking of "Ero" Empty The Sinking of "Ero"

Post  Sirop14 on Mon Jan 18, 2016 12:11 pm

The Sinking of "Ero"


Through the eyes of a rescuer, 41 years later

“Ann I was so brave and I had faith, so much faith, I don’t even know where I had those reserves. During the whole ordeal, it never crossed my mind that my mother would drown”. Excerpts of a letter written by Terri Voss (nee Therese Berlouis), sent to her friend Ann Kirby on January 17 1976, exactly forty years ago this week.

Terri Voss was referring to the fateful day, when on 12 August 1975, "Ero", a wooden passenger schooner capsized and sank, with 22 passengers on board. Among them was her mother Mrs Harry Berlouis of Anse La Farine, Praslin, one of the four women onboard the "Ero" on that fateful morning.

The ferry, using motor and sail, was the main mode of transport to transfer passengers and goods between the two islands, Mahe and Praslin. The routine trips would be uneventful until August 12 1975, when during rough seas, heightened by the south-east monsoon, the boat would suffer damages to its side and would slowly start taking in waters. By then it had reached the environs of Mamelles islands and it was some three hours into the trip which then took between five and six hours, depending on the weather.

If it wasn’t for Luc Grandcourt’s quick action and sheer bravery, things would have taken a turn for the worse. According to various documented reports by the passengers and crew of "Ero", it took about half an hour to one hour for the boat to start tilting over, which gave the crew enough time to build makeshift rafts made out of wooden planks from the sinking ferry and tied to barrels that were on board; this was done under the watchful eyes and command of Captain Grandcourt, who was also ensuring that his passengers remain calm as he handed out life jackets in anticipation for the worse.

Mrs Harry Berlouis and other passengers, which also included Bishop French Chang-Him, eventually had to abandon ship and for hours they battled the stormy south-east monsoon sea and strong winds as they held on to dear life and bracing the hot sun while awaiting help.

Nearly four months after the grueling incident, Terri related the chain of events to her friend Ann Kirby, in a six-page letter. Terri, a registered nurse, was one of the rescuers who went out at sea to help save the passengers. Ann kept the letter and had forgotten about it until she came across it a couple of years ago while clearing out one of her drawers. She quickly shared this with Captain Luc Grandcourt’s brother, Robert Grandcourt and together they decided to work towards having the letter documented in the British Maritime Museum for posterity. She thinks that the letter depicts true heroism and bravery by Captain Luc Grandcourt to keep his passengers and crew alive whilst the odds were against him.

Terri’s letter contained detailed account of the rescue operation from the time the call for help was sent until the survivors were taken to safety.

Contacted by TODAY in a bid to get further insight into her account of events, Terri recalled that the call came at around 12.45pm, after "Ero" had been spotted by a small plane and she quickly sprung into action. She sought the assistance of Ray Hitchcock, the owner of a speedboat who was having midday drinks with his crew at the Yatch club and who gladly accepted to help. “The approximately 34ft speedboat, equipped with twin engines, was moored at the Yatch club small jetty and we left from there”, recalled Terri, who presently lives in Hawaii.
Terri said that they remained at seas for hours, before she spotted the rescue boat arriving at around 3.30pm.

In the letter sent to her friend Ann Kirby, Terri remembered how bad the weather was on that day; “the captain (Ray Hitchcock) had to stay at the wheel (of the speedboat) just to keep the boat from capsizing , no way we could anchor. The sea was raging mad! The waves covered us at all times. It’s a wonder we were not thrown over so many times".

Through the giant waves and fog, Terri would finally spot her mother, “I called to her, thinking she was dead. She looked blue, they all did, black and white alike. She turned around and I would see her say ‘Therese’, but a wave covered her again”, she wrote.
Terri’s mother and other passengers of "Ero" would eventually be rescued after 4pm, after spending over seven hours in the sea. Terri recalled that because the speedboat was much lower in the water compared to the rescue boat, “it was easier for us to get the survivors on board. Once everyone was accounted for, we got the sign to return to land”, Terri told TODAY.

Going back to her letter she sent to her friend Ann, she recalled how the passengers were in a state of shock after being rescued; “Those poor people who had capsized, you ought to have heard the questions they asked, ‘manmzel’, one said, ‘have you seen my purse?’. There was one young man, he looked so pale and dazed all the time, so I finally asked him whether he felt ok. He says, ‘I think so but I’ve lost 15 cases of tomatoes madame and all my money’”.

Terri said that the incident was an emotionally charged event, the more so since her mother was involved. “I, as a registered nurse trained for catastrophic events and circumstance, was challenged in three major areas, mental, physical and emotional”, she recalled.

However, in her letter to Ann, Terri wrote how they had to stay brave despite the fact that she was mentally exhausted and ready to give up; “we had to put up a front all the time, so we laughed most of the time although at one time I fell really like bawling like a baby. I must have fainted two or three times but no one noticed”.

Terri said the incident haunted her for a while and when confiding to her friend Ann, wrote, “every time anyone asks me about the whole incident, my only answer is‘if you or any of my relatives and friends ever capsize in a boat, be assured that I will not be in the rescue team unless they have a proper lifeboat’”.

When asked how the incident affected her mother, Terri, replied that her mother’s last phone conversation to her after a major stroke which eventually killed her, was still echoing her experience on the "Ero". “She said 'this time I’m buggered and will not make it'”, she told TODAY.

The sinking of "Ero", an incident which could have turned into the worst tragedy in Seychelles’ history, remains till today, 40 years later, a story of strength and bravery of one man, who despite being just 27 years old at the time with 14years experience as a mariner, displayed true heroism as he tried to keep his crew and passengers alive.

Hopefully through Ann Kirby’s project with the help of Captain Luc’s brother, 12 August 1975, will forever remain in maritime history as one of the greatest maritime rescues of all time.

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The Sinking of "Ero" Empty The end of the Ero: A bird’s-eye view

Post  Sirop14 on Fri Jan 22, 2016 7:15 pm

The end of the Ero: A bird’s-eye view

This highly evocative story was written by Aggie Robinson, who set up the Seychelles Aero Club with Mike Savy in 1972. She spent seven years as the club’s flying instructor.



The pilot, Aggie RobinsonThe 12 August 1975 was an overcast, drizzly day with a strong South-East wind whipping up the waves. I had suspended all flying lessons for the day and was busy getting my paperwork up to date at the Aero Club when the phone rang. It was the Port Captain from Victoria. It was not unusual to get called up by the Port Captain and requested to undertake an aerial search whenever a boat went missing.

“The ERO has gone missing. It was supposed to have arrived in Praslin a few hours ago and has not arrived. Please see if you can find out where it is”, said the Port Captain. I enquired as to the number of passengers on board and was told there were 22. My husband and I had chartered the Ero many times to carry building materials to Denis Island, where my husband was building the lodge. I had great regard for the captain of the schooner, Captain Grandcourt, who was a sensible and dependable man. The ERO always arrived punctually with our cargo.

I refueled the little two-seater Cessna Aerobat, which had high wings that enabled us to see below us with ease. I called my sister to come and help me look for the schooner, and took off into the depressing grey sky, heading in the direction of Praslin. Visibility was very poor and squalls of rain blended the ocean and sky together, obliterating the horizon. I had to concentrate hard to be able to fly at low level, which the low cloud-base forced me to do.

About eight miles from Praslin I saw what appeared to be an upturned boat. We discovered it was the Ero. It had capsized in the rough seas and there were people clinging onto the underside of the boat. Their bright orange lifejackets were clearly visible in the dark water. Circling the boat at low level, I counted heads and came up with the figure of 16. I counted repeatedly but the figure was still only 16! Either the rest had drowned or had drifted apart and were somewhere else.

I turned the aircraft downwind and down-current hoping to find more survivors. After flying a further five minutes we came across a 44-gallon drum, around which a rope had been tied. Clinging onto the rope were a further five persons. This brought the total number of passengers to 21.

“One is still missing!” I said to my sister and returned to the upturned hull of the Ero to do a recount. Again we came up with the same figure which meant one person was missing. By then I was running short of fuel and reluctantly decided to return to the airport on Mahé to refuel. While on ground, I called the Port Captain who was adamant that there were 22 passengers onboard.

I decided to continue my search. I found the upturned schooner again, which was now being rapidly approached by a rescue boat. Another aircraft was circling above it, and I turned towards the barrel. My last and only option now was to search further downwind and hope to see something.

I was about to give up when, in the rough waves and sea-spray, I caught a momentary glimpse of what I thought was an orange lifejacket. Although I thought it was too far away from the main group, something prompted me to continue. Sure enough, there it was again, a person, floating in an orange lifejacket, being pounded relentlessly by the waves. I circled this lonely figure, and detected a faint wave. My immediate thought was “thank God, he is OK!”

My aim now was to get this person rescued. I could just make out the islands of Silhouette, North and Praslin. This was enough to give me some sort of “fix” on his position. I flew back towards the barrel, thinking to myself that the poor person must have been in the water for at least four hours or more. “We must not lose him now!”

I returned to the Ero where the rescue boat was picking up survivors. It then proceeded to pick up the others clinging to the barrel. The rescue boat then turned away and headed towards Mahé. They seemed not to be aware that there was another person in the sea… I had to get the skipper’s attention somehow.

Not being in radio contact with him I realized that the only way to get his attention was to fly low heading directly for the rescue boat and just before reaching it, to turn my plane in the direction where I had seen the lone person. The boat continued on regardless. Again I returned and again I headed straight for his bows at low level, nearly touching the top of the rescue boat. Again I veered off towards the lone person.

Suddenly, it dawned on the skipper that I was trying to convey a message and, to my relief, he slowed and turned his boat around, heading in the direction that I had indicated. Now all I had to do was find the lone person again and lead him to her. I was nervously scouring the ocean below and finally located the floating person. I continued to circle the lone woman, knowing that just seeing my plane circling above her would give her hope.

Eventually the rescue boat arrived, and with a sigh of relief, we watched as the exhausted survivor was plucked from the sea. My fuel tank was nearly empty so I headed back.

http://seychellesweekly.com/2016/January%2018,%202016/soc1aaa_end_of_the_ero.html

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