Accessibility links

Breaking News

Tongan Man Dubbed ‘Aquaman’ After He Survived 27 Hours at Sea

This handout photo released courtesy of Tonga's Minister for Trade and Economic Development on Jan. 20, 2022 shows destruction along the western beaches of Tonga's main island of Tongatapu.

A 57-year-old partially disabled Tongan man is being called a real-life “Aquaman” for surviving 27 hours at sea after being swept away by a tsunami generated by the massive volcanic eruption near the island nation Saturday.

In an interview with Tongan media agency Broadcom Broadcasting, Lisala Folau told the story of how he was painting his home Saturday evening on the small, isolated island of Atata when, about 7 p.m., his brother alerted him to the impending tsunami.

Officials say the massive eruption of the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha'apai volcano generated large tsunamis throughout the region and across the Pacific.

Folau said a wave no less than 6 meters swept him and his niece out to sea. He said the two called out to each other for a time until he could no longer hear her.

He said he just floated, all night, “bashed around by the big waves that kept coming." At dawn, he said, he tried to flag down a police boat, but it could not see him. He said he kept floating and managed to slowly swim 7.5 km to the main island of Tongatapu, reaching the shore 27 hours later, about 10 p.m. Sunday.

Folau said he is disabled and cannot walk properly.

The story of Folau's heroics went viral among Tongan groups on Facebook and other social media. Western media trying to reach Folau to verify his story have so far been unsuccessful.

His home island of Atata, which has a population of about 60 people, is 8 km northwest of Tonga’s capital, Nuku'alofa, or a 30-minute boat ride. It was almost entirely destroyed in the tsunami that hit the islands. Tongan naval boats are still surveying the smaller islands and evacuating people to the main islands.

Some information in this report came from Reuters.