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Thursday, June 4, 2015, 08:47

A son's treat ended in tragedy

By Peng Yining
A son's treat ended in tragedy
Premier Li Keqiang and other officials pay tribute to victims on Wednesday in Jianli county, Hubei province. (Feng Yongbin / China Daily)

Wang Sheng signed up to give his parents a cruise tour along the Yangtze River after seeing a newspaper advertisement. The 38-year-old Shanghai resident said in an interview with Caixin that he wanted his retired parents "to go out to see the world".

The advertisement read, "Visit eight provinces by a large cruise ship, the Eastern Star, along the Yangtze, for only 1,098 yuan ($177). Every room has a bathroom, shower and satellite TV."

A Nanjing resident surnamed Xiang arranged for his 60-year-old wife, an amateur photographer, to go on the same tour. She traveled a lot after she retired, Xiang told Caixin.

On the morning of May 28, Xiang saw his wife off at a bus station. In the afternoon, she phoned to tell him that she was on board. She shared a cabin with another female tourist. "The room is nice," she said.

The Eastern Star, which was commissioned in 1994, was one of the earliest luxury cruise vessels in China.

The ship sailed more than 100 times each year along the Yangtze River between Shanghai and Chongqing, although it was to be scrapped in another three years.

The cruise was scheduled to visit more than 10 tourist spots, including the magnificent Three Gorges and Yellow Crane Tower on the banks of the Yangtze in Wuhan, Hubei province.

On Sunday, three days after the Eastern Star sailed from Nanjing, Xiang's wife called him at 7 pm and said they had just arrived in Wuhan and were going to the Yellow Crane Tower.

She also talked with their grandson and greeted him for the coming Children's Day. That was the last time Xiang spoke with his wife.

At 8:52 pm on Monday, the image of Eastern Star was captured by a camera on another ship passing by.

The 76.5-meter ship, carrying 456 passengers, mostly tourists ages 50 to 80, was navigating its way in the middle of the river.

About 20 minutes later, Zhang Lifen, a 60-year-old passenger, called her husband and said there was a storm outside, according to a Beijing News report.

At 9:20 pm, Zhang Hui, 43, a passenger and tour agency staff member, noticed water pouring into the ship.

Within minutes, the ship had listed about 45 degrees. Seconds later, it began to capsize. Zhang grabbed a life jacket, climbed out a window and jumped into the river. He was rescued after 10 hours of floating down the river.

As of Wednesday night, only 14 people had been found alive. Twenty-six bodies had been recovered, and 416 people remained missing, including Wang's 76-year-old father and 69-year-old mother.

"I signed up for the cruise for them. I am so sorry," he cried at an information center in Shanghai for the relatives of passengers, according to Caixin.

"I am left all alone."

Contact the writer at pengyining@chinadaily.com.cn

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