Real life 'Aquaman' spends 27 hours adrift after tsunami washes him into sea

·4-min read

A 57-year-old man from Tonga is being dubbed the "real life Aquaman" after he swam for 27 hours to safety following the tsunami.

Lisala Folau lives on Atata, an island of just 61 people, about 8km away from Nuku'alofa, Tonga's capital.

Mr Folau was painting his home when his brother yelled out to warn him there was a wave coming.

Speaking with Yahoo News Australia, Mr Folau's son, Talivakaola Folau, explained his father was disabled and couldn't move very quickly.

Despite his mobility issues, Mr Folau's brother and nephew were able to get him up to a low lying tree branch as the first wave hit Atata.

"After it hit, his brother went to go and get help. But while he was gone his nephew thought it was alright for the two of them to go," Talivakaola said.

Pictured is Atata Island, where Tongan man Lisala Folau lives which was hit by the tsunami
Lisala Folau lives on Atata Island, off the coast of the Tongan mainland. Source: Google Earth

At this point, three ladies approached Mr Folau and his nephew and asked the nephew for help getting to safety. One of the women was Mr Folau's niece.

Despite being close to the village by the time the second wave came, Mr Folau and his niece couldn't escape in time and were swept away into the sea.

Speaking to Broadcom, a Tongan radio station, Mr Folau said it was dark and he could not see his family, but he heard his son calling from the shore.

Not wanting his family to risk their lives trying to save him, Mr Folau didn't respond to his son's calls.

"The truth is no son can abandon his father," Mr Folau told Broadcom.

"But for me, as a father I kept my silence for if I answered him he would have jumped in and tried to rescue me."

"He thought, ‘I'm in trouble now’, but decided he would rather die alone than answering his son," Talivakaola said.

Pictured is Tongan man Lisala Folau who survived at sea for 28 hours after he was swept away in the tsunami.
Tongan dad Lisala Folau survived at sea for 28 hours after he was swept away in the tsunami. Source: Facebook/Talivakaola Folau

Police boat passes by twice

Out at sea, Mr Folau had managed to grab onto a drifting log and was bashed around by the big waves.

"He held on to the log as he drifted out to sea and he thought he’d just hang on and if they do find him, they’ll have a body to say goodbye to and bury," Talivakaola said.

At what Mr Folau believes was about 7am on Sunday, his log became stuck in a reef. But he decided he had enough energy to make it to another island.

Talivakaola said his father saw police travelling to Atata by boat in the distance, he tried flagging them down to no avail.

He continued drifting in the ocean with the log, and once again the boat passed him without noticing him.

"So he drifted and tried to swim at the same time because he could see an island called Polo’a, and he still felt strong enough to get there," Talivakaola said.

"He estimated that he left [the reef] at 10am and got to the island at 6pm.

"He could see the mainland very well and felt strong enough to get there but kept thinking if the others had survived."

Lisala Folau made it safely to the mainland, after swimming and floating in the ocean for hours. Source: Facebook/Talivakaola Folau
Lisala Folau made it safely to the mainland, after swimming and floating in the ocean for hours. Source: Facebook/Talivakaola Folau

Talivakaola explained his dad then swam to the main island and ended up on the beach of Sopu, just near the capital, at around 9pm.

He found a stick to use as a walking stick and flagged down a vehicle to call for help.

"He was so cold and wet and very, very tired," Talivakaola said.

On social media, Mr Folau's son said he was proud of his father. Another man referred to him as the "real life Aquaman" on a different social media post.

“So unexpected that I survived after being washed away, floating and surviving the dangers I just faced,” he told Broadcom.

Three people have died in Tonga following the eruption and subsequent tsunami.

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