07 Oct 2006

ABC - Kampung Air Batang, or "ABC" as the locals call it, Tioman Island.

The five metres between me and the pontoon is more fish than water. A Japanese snorkelling group is feeding them and huge brightly-coloured fish are teeming. It's out of my depth and I have no idea what's on the bottom, although the looming shapes of coral rocks in the shallower water further along the jetty gives me an idea.

But Lyn's already on the pontoon, so I have no choice. A nervous plunge and a few short strokes later I'm there.

We sunbake on the pontoon, with the fish so close I can hear the grinding noise as they chew something off the sides. Then we build up our confidence in the deep water by jumping off the side and swimming back to the ladder. Lyn is scared of the sea despite being an expert swimmer. I'm scared because I know I'm not.

Across the beach, on the side that's not a construction site, is a high jungle. There's a group of snorkellers at our depth but on the other side of the beach. All we need are monkeys to complete the picture.

ABC - Airway. Breathing. Circulation.

Lyn hears him first, but it's only after the drowning man returns my questioning wave with a desperate one of his own that I realise he's serious. I'm in the air before I have time to think. Lyn's a couple of seconds behind me, but crosses the 30m of deep water efficiently and reaches him first.

He's flailing, out of his depth, but conscious. Lyn seizes a lifejacket from the nearby snorkellers and gives it to him while I head for his mate. He's floating peacefully face down in classic snorkelling position. Out of my depth and beginning to get in trouble myself, it takes me a few seconds to realise he's not wearing a snorkel.

I flip him over. His eyes are open, his lips are blue, and he's not breathing. Lyn and I manhandle him towards shore. As we reach shallower water we're joined by the first of his friends. We've been shouting for help, and a couple of 6-foot English guys have finally arrived from the jetty. Lyn dispatches one of them to retrieve the other victim. Now jacketed, he's not drowning but he is stranded.

We get him in to the rocky shallows and his mates start doing CPR - badly. Lyn directs them to tilt his head back and not blow so hard - they'd already inflated his stomach. Somehow, his breathing restarts. It's ragged, and he's still unconscious.

A crowd is gathering on the beach but no one else moves to help as we haul him up on to the boat ramp. He's heavy - it takes five people to move him. From there we get him in to the recovery position and wait.

A motorcycle shows up but it's no use to us. There are shouts of "handphone" and "sidecar", and about 10 minutes later the "ambulance" shows up. We heave him in to the sidecar, propping his head up with a lifejacket, and three people help to push the underpowered motorcycle back up the boat ramp. It takes off, with the victim's friend perched on the side. It's 3km to Tekek jetty, an hour to Mersing via speedboat, and god knows how long from there to the nearest hospital.

Everyone drifts off. One of his friends comes over to thank us. The monkeys we were looking for earlier come down on to the beach. A local taps a laconic finger in acknowledgement as we start the hike back to Panuba.