Rescuer says he's never seen anything like it
It was an ordinary morning for Antonis Deligiorgis, a Greek Army Sergeant living on the island of Rhodes, a popular tourist destination island in southern Greece. After making the morning school run with his wife, the two stopped by a seaside cafe for a coffee.
According to The Guardian, shortly thereafter, a wooden boat from Turkey, carrying 93 refugees and migrants from Syria and Eritrea, crashed into some jagged rocks off the shore and disintegrated in a matter of minutes.
“It was as if it was made of paper, " said Deligiorgis. "By the time I left the café at 10 past 10, a lot of people had rushed to the scene. The coastguard was there, a Super Puma [helicopter] was in the air, the ambulance brigade had come, fishermen had gathered in their caiques. Without really giving it a second’s thought, I did what I had to do. By 10:15 I had taken off my shirt and was in the water."
Deligiorgis is responsible for bringing 20 of the 93 refugees to shore singlehandedly.
“The water was full of oil from the boat and was very bitter and the rocks were slippery and very sharp. I cut myself quite badly on my hands and feet, but all I could think of was saving those poor people.”
The 34-year-old cannot remember how many people he saved, but one woman was 24 year-old Eritrean woman Wegasi Nebiat, whose parents paid $10,000 to help smuggle her into Europe. She left Eritrea, a country notorious for its human rights abuses, many months ago and made her way to Turkey through smugglers. She then joined a group of refugees in Marmaris and they were brought to a secluded beach to begin the perilous journey across the Mediterranean.
The UK’s Daily Mail, reports that Wegasi was treated for three days for suspected pneumonia, and in her hospital bed, when shown a photo of her being rescued by Deligiorgis, says she didn’t remember much.
"I was in the water and scared and then I was here. I feel lucky. I have family back at home and I am lucky that I made it."
When Deligiorgis spotted Wegasi in the water, the waves were strong and Wegasi was having problems breathing as she hung on to debris.
“There were some guys from the coastguard around me who had jumped in with all their clothes on. I was having trouble lifting her out of the sea. They helped and then, instinctively, I put her over my shoulder, ” Deligiorgis recalls.
Deligiorgis, who also rescued a woman who then gave birth to healthy baby boy in a Rhodes hospital, says the survival skills and techniques he learned in the army helped him. He doesn’t consider himself a hero — he says he simply did his duty "as a human being and as a man."
The new Eritrean mother plans to name her baby boy after Deligiogis, the man who saved both of them.
The army sergeant is not the only person who risked his life to save the migrants. Manolis Stavris, a local sailor, was another — the first to arrive at the scene, according to a story in the Daily Mail.
‘We were the first to spot the boat, we thought it was a tourist boat. When we saw it hit the rocks, we contacted the company and they told us to rush and save the people."
Stavris saw a young woman holding on to a tube with a baby in her arms.
"She was shouting ‘the baby, the baby.’ I saw the baby fall from her hands and slowly descend towards the bottom of the sea, like lead, like a stone. The baby was wearing a lot of clothes. I dove into the water and caught the child. Another six people fell in the water after me," he said, adding, "I couldn’t feel the cold, or anything. I only cared about saving the people. The child didn’t make a sound. She looked at me like she wanted to say something, I held her close and she didn’t make a sound, she didn’t even cry.” ‘I’ve never seen anything like what happened yesterday, only on television. I’ve been travelling for 38 years and I’ve never seen anything like that."
Even those who remianed on shore were doing their best to help. Stavris recalled a Greek woman standing nearby who took the clothes off her own child in order to dress the baby he had saved.
"We are all proud to be Greek. We may not have enough, we may be starving, but in situations such like these we are the best people in the world."