Christmas miracle — young WA trio pulled from rubble after landslide in Sri Lanka

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Kenton Gibbs, Jorgia Pisani and Noah Symmans were buried alive in a landslide in Sri Lanka.
Camera IconKenton Gibbs, Jorgia Pisani and Noah Symmans were buried alive in a landslide in Sri Lanka.

Three WA families are celebrating a Christmas miracle after a trio of young holidaymakers survived being buried alive in a landslide which demolished their accommodation in Sri Lanka.

Speaking after touching down in Perth this week, Albany mates Noah Symmans, 21, and Kenton Gibbs, 20, were still at a loss to explain how they were not crushed when their section of a resort in Ella collapsed in a storm.

Mr Symmans is a State-level bodyboarder, while Mr Gibbs was the Great Southern Football League’s leading goalkicker in 2018.

They had travelled to Sri Lanka for a holiday to celebrate Christmas, Mr Gibbs’ 21st birthday on December 30, and the new year.

The villa before it collapsed.
Camera IconThe villa before it collapsed.

After a few days in Ella, they went to bed early on Thursday last week, planning to head south to the coast to spend some time surfing after they woke up on Friday.

Mr Symmans was asleep with his 21-year-old girlfriend Jorgia Pisani, from Perth, on the ground floor of their two-storey brick-and-tile villa when it came down on top of them just after 2am.

He remembers a noise that sounded like an explosion.

“At first it was like one of those dreams where you’re falling, but then you sit up in bed and you’re all good. But this time we weren’t,” he said.

The scene after some of the rubble had been remove.
Camera IconThe scene after some of the rubble had been remove.

Trapped under the rubble for about 20 minutes, millimetres away from being crushed and with their air supply seemingly running out, they thought the village had been levelled by an earthquake.

They assumed Mr Gibbs was probably dead and they thought their time was up as well.

“It was hard to accept at first but we accepted that we might not survive but at least we were together and away on holiday,” Mr Symmans said.

“I was thinking everyone back home would have been proud of the lives we’d lived — our parents.”

Some distance away, Mr Gibbs was pinned on his side and starting to panic.

Kenton Gibbs takes a strong grab in the 2019 GSFL grand final.
Camera IconKenton Gibbs takes a strong grab in the 2019 GSFL grand final. Credit: Laurie Benson

The temperature was rising and he could hear Ms Pisani screaming. He could not hear Mr Symmans’ voice.

He told himself to relax and slow his breathing.

“I think I might have been in there for about half an hour,” he said.

“I heard them starting to pull some rubble away and I could feel it compressing on me. They eventually cleared a hole near my hand and they were trying to pull me out.

“Then I was dragged out, carried down the rubble and taken straight to hospital.

“I had no idea if Noah and Jorgia were OK.”

Noah Symmans competing at the 2016 WA Bodyboard Titles.
Camera IconNoah Symmans competing at the 2016 WA Bodyboard Titles. Credit: Surfing WA/Majeks

Unknown to him, his friends had been pulled from the rubble about 10 minutes earlier.

With every piece of debris their rescuers had removed, they feared it might trigger a collapse.

Mr Symmans asked about his friend, but the language barrier prevented him getting a clear answer.

Two days later, on Sunday, they had left Demodara Hospital in Sri Lanka and arrived back in Australia.

Mr Gibbs has three fractured vertebrae in his back, but other than that, the trio escaped with minor injuries.

Kenton Gibbs and Noah Symmans enjoying their time in Sri Lanka.
Camera IconKenton Gibbs and Noah Symmans enjoying their time in Sri Lanka.

They still cannot understand how they were so lucky, but they are happy to be home.

“Even now being on home turf and seeing my family, it still feels like a dream. I’m still not 100 per cent convinced that we’ve survived,” Mr Symmans said.

“It would have made more sense if all of us had died or at least one of us.

“It just makes no sense.”

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