Saturday, 19 Jun 2021

StoryCast ’21: The story of boy who survived tsunami and inspired Ronaldo

On 26 December 2004, one of the deadliest disasters in history struck when tsunami waves – triggered by a massive earthquake – led to around 230,000 deaths in South East Asia. A Sky News camera crew would discover an eight-year-old boy named Martunis among the devastation. Their subsequent report was seen by Cristiano Ronaldo – the Portuguese football star, known to many as the greatest player of his generation, but less so for his role in this remarkable survival story.

Martunis has told his story in full for the first time in Miracle Boy, the first episode of StoryCast ’21 – a Sky News podcast series telling 21 extraordinary personal stories from some of the biggest news events of the century.

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Martunis had been playing football with his friends in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, before he was knocked unconscious and swept away by a giant wave.

The eight-year-old was wearing the football shirt of the Portuguese national team – the country of his hero Cristiano Ronaldo.

Martunis with Ronaldo

Martunis, now in his mid-20s, explains during Miracle Boy: “When I woke up there was no one around me. I woke up on top of a mattress, when it drowned I was hit by a tree trunk which then pushed me to the sea, in an area around 3km from my house.

“In that place there were lots of corpses, and I slept among those bodies.”

Martunis had been caught up in one of the worst natural disasters in history.

The Indian Ocean tsunami in December 2004 was triggered by a 9.1 magnitude earthquake under the surface of the water. Its epicentre was roughly 200km from the island of Sumatra in Indonesia.

It would cause waves as high as 132ft and leave around 230,000 people dead and 1.7 million homeless.

The Indian Ocean is also bordered by some of the least-developed countries in the world, meaning they had not spent much on preparing for such a catastrophe.

The tsunami would cause deaths in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, Somalia, Myanmar, Maldives, Malaysia, Tanzania, Seychelles, Bangladesh, South Africa, Yemen, Kenya and Madagascar.

It was amidst the devastation in Indonesia that Martunis was discovered by Sky News cameraman Phil Hooper and security advisor Martin Vowles.

The youngster had been living off dried noodles and puddle water for three weeks.

Martunis

Before the disaster struck, Martunis had rushed home as the towering waves headed inland, only to see his mother and sisters get washed away.

He says during Miracle Boy: “All I could think of were my family, I didn’t see anyone alive during those days. I slept on a bed where there were many bodies underneath, I cried many times.”

As the tsunami continued to make global headlines in the weeks after the catastrophe, Martunis’ story caught the attention of the world – including Ronaldo himself.

Martunis didn’t know at the time, but the superstar footballer had decided something had to be done and that he would come to the young boy’s aid.

Now, more than 15 years after the disaster, Martunis, Phil and Martin have come together for StoryCast ’21 to tell their story in full for the first time.

Ronaldo himself also helps tell this incredible story of hope, despair, and surviving in the face of unimaginable adversity

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