'I Saw People Dying in Front of Me'

The two survivors of last week's Channel crossing tragedy speak out
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 1, 2021 2:26 AM CST
'I Saw People Dying in Front of Me'
Life jackets, sleeping bags and damaged inflatable small boat are pictured on the shore in Wimereux, northern France, Friday, Nov. 26, 2021 in Calais, northern France.   (AP Photo/Rafael Yaghobzadeh, File)

Only two people survived last week's English Channel crossing tragedy, the deadliest crossing on record, and one of them says he's haunted by what happened. "I saw people dying in front of me," Mohamed Isa Omar tells the BBC, describing water that was "so cold" and migrants who could not swim drowning and dying "within minutes" of the boat sinking three and a half hours into its journey from France to the UK. Most passengers' cellphones went in the water, but at least two people were able to make emergency calls. However, before either one could send authorities the location, their phones, too, were rendered unusable by the water.

The other survivor, Mohammed Shekha Ahmed, says some tried to hold onto the deflated dinghy until "no one could take it any more." It was hours before the two men were rescued. Ultimately, 27 people died, mostly Iraqi Kurds. Victims of the tragedy are beginning to be identified: Maryam Nuri Mohamed Amin, 24, had left Iraq and was trying to surprise her fiance in the UK; she was communicating with him via Snapchat as the boat started to sink, the BBC reports. The Guardian has stories of other victims, including Khazal Hussein, 45, and her children Hadia, 22, Mubin, 16, and Hasti, 7. Two other children died, as did a pregnant woman. One family believes it lost 10 relatives in the disaster. (Read more English Channel stories.)

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