Couple escape from Maldives tsunami

A COUPLE who got engaged on a paradise island days before it was wiped away by the Asian earthquake have told how a cancelled scuba diving lesson may have saved their lives.

A COUPLE who got engaged on a paradise island days before it was wiped away by the Asian earthquake have told how a cancelled scuba diving lesson may have saved their lives.

Matt Vaughan-Williams, from Bury St Edmunds, and his fiancée Vikki Smith, had planned the scuba session in the Maldives on the day the tsunami hit – but it was called off just hours before.

Had it gone ahead, he believes they would probably have been killed.

But Mr Vaughan-Williams last night relived the horror of watching his fiancée Vikki Smith trapped in the devastating natural disaster as he attempted to wade through waist-high water to save her.

The shocked couple were left stranded on the exotic island of Lohifushi in the Maldives for three days before getting a lift to a safer island and finally flying back to Britain on Tuesday night .

Speaking from his Bury St Edmunds home, Mr Vaughan-Williams said: "On the morning of the tsunami, we were meant to go scuba diving for the first time but it was cancelled the night before. It could have been so much worse if we had been in the sea at the time.

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"We were so lucky and I think someone must have been looking down on us. I am still struggling to come to terms with everything that has happened.

"If the waves had hit in the middle of the night, it would have been pitch black and we would have had no idea where to go.

"So many people have been affected far more badly than we have – we just lost our possessions but so many others have lost their lives."

Reflecting on the day of the disaster, Mr Vaughan-Williams, 23, said he was aware that water was encroaching on their beach bungalow – but he had no idea of the horrors which lay ahead.

He said: "I told Vikki we needed to get everything on the bed as it looked like water was going to come into the room.

"It started coming under the door and then there were a few big bangs and the door just smashed in half. The force threw our fridge back and our room was in pieces so we just grabbed some belongings and ran out of the back.

"We waded through the water and headed to the other side of the island where there was some high ground."

After the initial shock of a torrent of water crushing their apartment, the couple were then hit by a second set of waves as they returned to salvage precious belongings from the devastation.

Mr Vaughan-Williams, an engineer for Sudbury-based Delphi, said: "As the second wave hit, Vikki tried to run out of the back door and got jammed as the waves closed it. I managed to just push the door, grabbed her and ran.

"There was panic everywhere. We were getting really worried about how high the water was getting – at one stage if it got any higher, we would have been in big trouble.

"We went to the hotel reception where we stayed awake for two nights, with just a few candles, and just stared at the sea.

"No one knew what was happening and no one knew whether the waves would come back. We couldn't get any news and it was so eerie."

As the disaster continues to dominate news programmes and column inches, Mr Vaughan-Williams is now turning his attentions to moving in with his fiancée, a 23-year-old university student from Liverpool, some time next year after popping the question in the idyllic surroundings they had been enjoying before the disaster.

He said: "We were having a great holiday and of course it was great that she said yes. It was the first time we had been out there and we saved up for ages.

"The whole island was beautiful, an absolute paradise and we still want to go back again."

Fortunately, the couple managed to contact their parents before news of the worst natural disaster in decades had hit television screens.

Relieved mother Teresa said: "We were so much more fortunate than others as we got a phone call before it was on the news.

"Our thoughts are with all those families who have not been as fortunate as us. It could have been a completely different story."

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