Surfer Ben Panangian and three friends had been surfing when they heard what they first thought was thunder. They turned and watched as the Lion Air airliner crashed into the ocean, having overshot the Denpasar's Ngurah Rai International Airport.
The surfers were the first responders to the horrific crash that occurred Saturday near Bali. They immediately paddled to the airliner and began rescuing passengers, transporting those who could not swim to shore.
Panangian, 31, is reported to also be a renowned stand-up paddle boarder in Indonesia and the boyfriend of Schapelle Corby, an Australia woman currently imprisoned in Bali for drug smuggling. He, along with surfers Yudi Astika, Ahmad Rofiq, and Krisbrianto, pulled dozens of passengers to safety.
Two men in a rubber dingy and several local fishermen also initially helped in the rescue.
“Usually you hear the planes land every 15 minutes,” Mr. Panangian told News Limited.
“There was thick cloud around and the wind was quite strong. Then I looked up and the plane had not landed.
“The next thing there is a big splash and then this wave. Usually there are no waves out here but the crash caused a big wave.” […]
“Most people were in shock; they were panicking.”
Mr. Panangian, who declined to comment about his infamous girlfriend who is still being held in Bali’s Kerobokan Prison, said all 108 passengers and crew were very lucky to be alive.
He said had it crashed the day before the tide would have been higher and the sea rougher, which would have hampered rescue efforts and possibly led to more severe injuries.
“It would have been worse two days ago,” he said.
“The plane would have been crashing against the rocks.”
Panangian said they heard people screaming, and tried helping those who were most injured. One man couldn't walk–Panangian thought he might have had a stroke–and there was one woman whose face was bleeding.
The surfer also said he thought the plane would blow, but they continued rescue efforts despite their fears.
Photo of Ben Panangian from his Facebook page; airliner photo from Indonesian Police via Wikimedia Commons.