SALVADOR SALAS

Emotional reunion as students who rescued others from sinking ferry, in which four people died, arrive back in Malaga

Three of the girls have completed their time as volunteers in the Galapagos Islands and the fourth is due back next week

IRENE QUIRANTE / JUAN CANO MALAGA.

They went as researchers and came back as heroines. Three of the postgraduate biology students from Malaga university who helped to rescue passengers from a sinking ferry in the Galapagos Islands are home.

When Estefanía (26), Marina (23) and Ana (22) arrived at Malaga Airport, their families were there, desperate to hug them. The other young woman, Yaiza (23), will be back next week as she joined the international volunteer scheme a few days after the others, back in August.

They had never dreamt that they would be in such a dramatic situation as the one they found themselves in on 25 September, when they boarded a boat from Isla Isabel to Santa Cruz on their way back to where they were staying.

One of the engines failed before the boat had even set off and it took several hours for the repair to be carried out. Although it was only supposed to carry 25 passengers there were 37 on board. The sea was rough and nobody was given lifejackets.

The engines failed again several times during the journey, and then the boat ran out of fuel and had to wait for another one to arrive with a supply. By the time it set off once again, darkness had fallen and it was foggy. Almost immediately there was another engine failure, but this time the boat began to sink. That was the start of a nightmare in which four people died.

"Everyone was screaming"

Ana was the first of the group to realise what was happening. All the passengers could do was jump into the sea and swim as fast as they could to try and reach the boat which had brought the fuel. “We were the first to board that boat,” she said afterwards.

Despite the panic and sense of shock, Estefanía helped two of the crew to rescue people from the sea. She still doesn’t know how she found the strength to pull people who were three times her weight out of the water, but she did. Meanwhile Marina, Ana and Yaiza took care of the children who had managed to get on board while their parents were rescued.

Vídeo.

“We rescued 14 or 15 people. Everyone was screaming and the children were crying. We tried to calm everyone down,” Estefanía said.

Despite their families encouraging them to travel home straight away, the girls remained on the islands to finish the research project they were helping with. “Everyone was very kind to us. We were well looked-after,” they said.