The 10-year anniversary of the 2004 Indonesia tsunami is ushering in a number of stories from the devastation. This one is especially heart-wrenching because at the time, a mom from Perth, Washington with two sons could only save one of them. Holding her 2-year-old in one arm and holding the hand of her 5-year-old with the other hand, Jillian Searle had to think fast. She tells Daily Mail Australia about the agonizing choice she was faced with when the everything turned upside down.
Jillian and her husband, Brad, were at the Phuket hotel by the swimming pool when the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami tore through the Thai island. When Brad had to go back to the room for something, his wife and two sons — Lachie, 5, and Blake, 2 — remained at the pool. That’s when everything changed instantly. Lachie and Blake’s mother recollects how she heard something that “sounded like jet planes,” but didn’t see anything. After that, Jillian says birds began flying away. She knew things weren’t right when she saw security men on walkie talkies and noticed a huge wave of water heading right toward them at a “very fast pace.” Jillian scooped up Blake and yelled at Lachie to run as fast he could. The frantic mother soon had Blake in one arm and holding Lachie’s hand with the other. She describes the scene as running with her children and “never looked back.”
At one point during the tsunami, Jillian yelled for help. The mother realized she was in a life or death situation. Searle recalls the harrowing experience in such a way that would make any mother shutter.
“I knew we would all die if I didn’t let go of one of the boys. I just wouldn’t have had anything to fight the water.”
A teenage girl named Elsie put out her hand in an effort to respond to Jillian’s yell for help. Wanting to believe one of her sons would be safe with her, she let go of the 5-year-old. Lachie and the girl disappeared.
Somehow Jillian and 2-year-old Blake managed to flee to safety. The horrific decision the mother had made in letting go of Lachie’s hand started to take hold.
“I was hysterical. Sobbing and screaming. I started to feel bad and there was so much guilt.
“I had all sorts of things going through my mind – like bringing back Lachie’s body bag and packing up his bedroom back at home. I wasn’t sure how I would get through his birthdays and the Christmases without him.”
When Jillian met up with her husband at higher ground, she told him what happened and he went searching for Lachie. When he returned a few hours later, there wasn’t any sign of him. Jillian thought he was dead, particularly because he couldn’t swim.
By the time everyone around the Searles knew their 5-year-old son was missing, Jillian says someone noticed a boy who looked like Lachie, and it was. His mom shares how she was feeling at that second.
“He didn’t even have a scratch on him. He was perfect and was found by some security guards. And the first thing he said to me was “mummy I’m really dirty, I need a shower.
“I felt really lucky. It obviously wasn’t our time and somebody was watching over us.
“Amazing – that’s one word to describe it.”
Lachie is now 15-years-old and remembers how terrifying the 2004 tsunami was. He doesn’t remember details, but enough to know it was a nightmare. He does remember holding onto a door for a couple of hours. How does he feel about his mother making the decision to let go of his hand “hoping” he’d be safe with a girl?
“My brother was younger and had no chance of survival,” Lachie says. “I knew it had to be done and I think mum made a smart decision.”
According to Reuters, the 2004 tsunami claimed the lives of 226,000 people. A 9.15-magnitude earthquake opened a fault line under the ocean floor on December 26, 2004 and wiped out multiple communities with 57-foot high waves.
[Photo Credit: Jillian Searle via Daily Mail Australia]