Baby's revival a beacon in a sea of misery

July 22, 2013 12:00AM

AMID the misery of Australia's most recent asylum boat disaster is the extraordinary story of a baby girl found face down in the ocean and brought back to life.

The navy saved the Afghan girl, who is about eight months old, during last Tuesday's frantic rescue in fading light. They scooped her out of the sea and resuscitated her. And when her breath faded, then stopped a short time later, they resuscitated her again.

Today four passengers from the same ill-fated asylum boat - two men and two women - lay in the expanded Christmas Island morgue. Another 11 people, including the baby's mother, are missing, presumed drowned.

Those familiar with what unfolded as the overcrowded boat began to lurch to one side within sight of HMAS Albany say the baby survived because of the keen eyes of a rescuer in a rigid inflatable boat.

The naval officer spotted her with her face in the water and went immediately to her. Christmas Islanders got their first glimpse of the little girl they call the miracle baby when she was delivered to the jetty with her father on Wednesday morning, her fluffy curls pressed to her head from being wet.

In a navy-issued white T-shirt and nappy, she sat in the lap of her father.

Locals learned more about her later that day at the island hospital, one of the few places where Australian residents and asylum-seekers interact.

There, she was given an injection as her father spoke softly to her. "She was screaming like crazy and her father was speaking to her the whole time . . . The tone was loving and reassuring - he really seemed to be saying 'it will be all right'," said one resident.

Island residents now want to know who saved the baby. The Australian Defence Force could not say yesterday which of its officers had rescued her, and it was likely that those involved were now back at sea, patrolling for other asylum boats.

In the past week the extreme challenges for navy personnel there have been acknowledged by people including island administrator Jon Stanhope, who says they deserve the utmost respect.

Mr Stanhope has been vocal in his belief that the anonymity of asylum-seekers makes it harder for Australians to see them as real people with hopes and dreams.

The baby girl, her father and two siblings were transferred to Perth by the Royal Flying Doctor Service last Thursday.

A spokesman for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship said last night the baby girl was recovering well.


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