People of Georgian: Registrar recounts near-death ferry sinking, stranded in ocean for hours
November 20, 2020

What’s your story?

Our Georgian College community is full of unique, inspiring perspectives, and we’re sharing different ones each week.

People of Georgian: Meet Cindy Mutchler

It was 5 a.m., about nine hours into a 12-hour ferry ride on my Christmas holiday in the Philippines.

There were about 650 people on board, but just 591 survived and about 40, 50 people perished.

There was a bit of a typhoon; it was quite wavy, and suddenly the ferry hits a shoal. We all jolt awake.

We’re in metal bunk beds in an open-air sort of space.

Then the ferry started listing very quickly to the port side and taking on water, and everyone started to pray.

The ship is going down.

I ended up jumping off the ferry into the water, the South China Sea, and it was just breaking daylight.

I didn’t make it into a lifeboat, but I swam over to one and hung out there.

People were vomiting, having issues and many couldn’t swim, so I was bringing people over to the life boat.

‘I was worried about sharks’

Around four or five hours later, a helicopter came and dropped two ladders, which I swam over to.

I thought they were going to hoist us up into the helicopter, but as I’m holding on, it starts flying across the water.

Then the other ladder on the other side of the helicopter started swinging from the downwind and we started banging into each other.

I fell off into the ocean and got swept with the current quite a way outside of the search zone.

I was scared I was bleeding because I was worried about sharks. I wasn’t, thankfully.

I was scared of the pain I was in in case it limited my ability to stay in the water as long as I did to stay alive.

I realized I was hurt because I took a breath and felt very sharp pain; I had broken two ribs. I had this massive bruising develop really quickly all up my leg, chest and face.

‘I didn’t think I was going to make it’

I was there by myself in the ocean for about nine, 10 hours and it was raining on and off.

I had a child’s life jacket, but it split when I fell about eight storeys, losing two of its three flotation sections.

I didn’t think I was going to make it.

But then I sort of got this very warm feeling and I felt fine. It was almost spiritual. Whatever was going to happen was going to happen, and fear sort of melted away.

Then I started to hallucinate a little bit. I thought I heard helicopters but I couldn’t see them.

I sang a lot. Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog was a song I sang over and over. “Joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea, joy to you and me.”

Person smiles at the camera while standing outside in a snowy forest.

Like a scene from Castaway

Time passed and eventually I got to the top of a wave and I saw a big ship.

Literally, like in that movie Castaway when Tom Hanks is sort of passed out and a ship goes by, it was that kind of experience.

Every time I got to the top of the wave, I took off the orange lining of the life jacket and waved it.

I knew then that if they didn’t see me I was going to be toast because it was getting dark and I was using what energy I had left, and of course there’s no water or food or anything.

Luckily, I saw the ship turn and I knew it saw me. When it got closer, they threw out a life ring, and that was that, I was rescued.

‘Cindy before the ferry and Cindy after the ferry’

My dad will say, “There’s Cindy before the ferry and Cindy after the ferry.”

I know I changed because of that experience.

I think you’re given what you can handle. Change is the only constant and you’ve just got to keep going because that’s all you can do.

Cindy Mutchler, Registrar of Georgian College

Get in touch with the Registrar’s Office and other student services.

Want to share your story? Please contact socialmedia@georgiancollege.ca. To read previous People of Georgian stories, please visit our website, Instagram or Facebook.