MANILA, Philippines - For six hours last Friday, Air Force Lt. Col. Fermin Carangan bobbed in a turbulent sea, holding on to a seven-year-old boy as they clung to a piece of wood.
Powerful winds howled around them and big waves pounded them as they were swept away from Tacloban by Super Typhoon Yolanda.
Exhausted and showing early signs of hypothermia, the two washed up on the shores of Eastern Samar later in the afternoon.
Carangan, commander of the Philippine Air Force (PAF)’s Tactical Operations Group-8, was preparing his men for rescue and relief operations at their headquarters in Tacloban City at 6 a.m. on Friday when the rain started falling and the wind picked up. At around 7 a.m., the water surged into their office.
The water rose so quickly Carangan had to punch holes in the ceiling to get out. As he clambered onto the roof, the building collapsed.
The roof disappeared as Yolanda washed away everything in sight. Carangan managed to grab hold of a piece of wood as the sea swallowed up their headquarters along with his two junior officers, both fresh graduates of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA).
“I saw one of my soldiers trying to hold on to the wall of another building. I tried to reach him but the current was too strong and there was confusion and hysteria,” Carangan narrated in a blog posted by a senior PAF officer.
As Carangan was swept away by the waves, he managed to grab hold of a boy who was clinging to a floating coconut tree.
“At sea, we went through another hell. We were slapped by big waves, great big waves from all directions. We were tossed around by swirling winds. And we couldn’t help drinking a lot of salt water. I was getting tired, and so was Miguel. He was just seven years old and too young to die,” Carangan said.
Trembling from the cold after several hours, Miguel said he was exhausted and wanted to sleep. Carangan recognized it as a danger sign for hypothermia.
“I shouted in Miguel’s ear, ‘Don’t sleep! You can do it. Look, we are near land already,’ ” Carangan narrated.
He pointed to what looked like land nearby to keep the boy’s spirits up and make him stay awake.
“And then I realized that it was indeed the shoreline,” Carangan said.
Yolanda had blown them away to Basey in Eastern Samar, where rescuers found them on the shore at 1 p.m.
“I thought, maybe I survived because of this child. Without him, I could have given up. Maybe he’s the reason I’m still alive, because God wants me to make sure this child will live,” Carangan said.
Carangan, a member of the PMA’s Class of 1992, was taken to a hospital in Metro Manila.
“He’s now resting,” said PAF spokesman Col. Miguel Okol.
Carangan’s thoughts are with his men who remain missing, along with thousands of other people in Leyte.