MANILA, Philippines (Updated) — Air Force soldiers were on red alert for Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), but they were swallowed by the sea when a storm surge several feet high flooded and later submerged their office near the Tacloban City airport on Friday, November 8.
"We were slapped by waves, great big waves from all directions. We were also [pushed] by swirling winds," recalled Air Force Lt Col Fermin Carangan in an account posted by retired Brig Gen Carlos Holganza on his "Charly's blog."
Carangan helplessly watched his own men from the Philippine Air Force's Tactical Operations Group (TOG) 8 drift away. He floated at sea for about 6 hours as Yolanda slammed into the coastal towns of Leyte and Eastern Samar. "I was going farther and farther out into the sea, and all I saw were tips of coconut trees starting to disappear into the swelling water," he said.
It was hell. Then he saw something - or someone - afloat.
"Suddenly, I saw a child hugging tightly...a floating coconut tree. By a stroke of luck, the current led me to the child, and I was able to pluck him from his very unfortunate situation. He then held on to the piece of wood I myself [was] holding on to. Then we floated until we were out there in the middle of nowhere."
"I thought of my family. I prayed to God to take care of my wife and kids. I thought I’ve done to them what every father could – that is, to take good care of them. I was now getting so tired. And so was Miguel. He was just 7 years old. Too young to die, I thought," he continued.
Just as they were both about to surrender to Yolanda's wrath, Carangan saw the shoreline. They were in Basey, Samar — a long way from Tacloban City where they came from.
By saving the child, Carangan said he ended up saving himself.
Air Force spokesman Lt Col Miguel Okol told Rappler that Carangan is currently recovering in Manila.
While he floated at sea, Carangan thought about the 2 new graduates of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) who recently joined his unit.
"I thought that if something happened to me, at least I had been able to give professional and honorable service for a time. And that I’ve done enough since graduation. These two young guys were just starting and still have a very bright future ahead," he thought.
But the two young PMA graduates are among the 4 from Carangan's team who remain missing. Two others died.
(Update from the AFP as of November 13: Two dead and 3 remain missing. The 2 PMA 2013 graduates are alive and accounted for.)
Like Carangan and his men, many soldiers deployed to help in rescue and relief efforts instead became typhoon victims, making it difficult for the military to immediately respond to the crisis. — Rappler.com