Kirsty Wynn is a senior reporter at the Herald on Sunday.

Kiwi boat accident survivor meets victim's family

Visit to relatives of lost sailor is deeply emotional for Kiwi nurse who tried to save his life.
Christchurch theatre nurse and former navy officer Sarra Hunter-Weston stayed afloat for 30 hours after the boat she was on sank off the coast of Africa on February 1. Photo / Supplied
Christchurch theatre nurse and former navy officer Sarra Hunter-Weston stayed afloat for 30 hours after the boat she was on sank off the coast of Africa on February 1. Photo / Supplied

A New Zealand nurse who survived a horror boat accident in which her friend died has had an emotional meeting with the man's family.

Christchurch theatre nurse and former navy officer Sarra Hunter-Weston stayed afloat for 30 hours after the boat she was on sank off the coast of Africa on February 1.

Hunter-Weston was sailing with two friends from Kenya when their boat was smashed by a huge wave and sank. The three had old life-jackets and clung together for warmth, but only two survived.

Last week, Hunter-Weston and her surviving friend, Chaps, went to the town of Shela on Lamu Island and had an emotional meeting with the family of their friend Ali, who died of hypothermia.

"It was every bit as heartbreaking as I expected," Hunter-Weston said, "everyone weeping and holding each other ...

"I was led to Ali's wife and mother, feeling dreadful for them and somehow responsible. All I could say was pole sana [sorry] over and over."

Hunter-Weston then met Ali's heartbroken father and son.

"I found his dad's intense grief hardest to see," Hunter-Weston said in an email to the Herald.

"He is just devastated and my heart breaks for him. This family has lost so much already.

"Death at a young age, for many reasons, is far more common here than we ever would expect at home."

Hunter-Weston and her surviving friend, Chaps, had an emotional meeting with the family of their friend Ali, who died of hypothermia. Photo / Supplied
Hunter-Weston and her surviving friend, Chaps, had an emotional meeting with the family of their friend Ali, who died of hypothermia. Photo / Supplied

In the 30 hours after the boat sank Hunter-Weston and Chaps tried to keep Ali alive by keeping him warm and giving him small pieces of cucumber and tomato.

Sadly, he died in their arms.

Hunter-Weston spoke proudly of her two friends, describing them as consummate sailors. Ali was the skipper of his fishing vessel and Chaps works on superyachts in Europe.

Hunter-Weston was taken to Ali's brother's home and met his nephew, who is bedridden with muscular dystrophy.

"It really rattled me. We take good health care for granted at home. These people are so stoical in the face of hardship."

She had asked her Auckland-based son Matt James to set up a Givealittle page to raise money for Ali's wife and children.

"I know Kiwi people are so generous spirited and hope to get enough for their children's education and to take the burden off the extended family here," she said. "They're far from wealthy and Ali was a hard worker and much respected."

Since the tragedy Hunter-Weston has struggled with emotions but is trying to focus on the positives. She has fallen in love with Africa and its people and said she has a "second family" through her friendships with Ali and Chaps.

"I recognise my life at home for what it is ... material objects, bills, others' expectations, questionable necessities, trying to make time for the ones we love," she said.

"I find I no longer want that. I want joy and peace, love and laughter, time ... Am I dreaming? Perhaps."

- NZ Herald

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