This is the incredible story of the people who lived through the 2004 tsunami, told using their own words and videos.

The catastrophic disaster killed 230,000 people and as the devastation unfolded, remarkable amateur video footage emerged. It was shot by people from all around the tsunami's vast impact area and depicted the terror and chaos they experienced and lived through as the massive waves struck land.

Now, for the first time, Darlow Smithson will collate that footage into one film, a minute-by-minute account, told by the people who were there.

A simple combination of archive and personal testimonies from those who shot it will provide the narrative arc of a film in which the sound will be as compelling as the pictures. Listening to the actual conversations, ensuing terror and thundering destruction recorded on the original tapes provides a shocking intimacy and immediacy that no dramatic reconstruction ever could.

Free from music, narration or scientific analysis, our film will deliver a powerful and very human story of confusion and panic, of heartbreak and heroism, of death and, in some cases, miraculous survival.

In Thailand's Kho Lak, an English visitor spots the oncoming wave through the beachside palm trees. Minutes later and just a few miles away, an American tourist on Kho Phi Phi clings to his family and films as the waters engulf his hotel.

Watching English speaking footage only, we will see exactly what they saw, hear what they heard and listen as their off-camera voices turn from initial curiosity to bewildered fear and sheer terror. 

This will be a shocking, personal and historically valuable documentation of one of the planet's worst natural disasters, told by eyewitnesses who could only run for their lives or watch as others were instantaneously overwhelmed.

Their footage is brutally raw and immersive, and we'll interweave the tapes from that day with emotive interviews with those who filmed them. What were their first thoughts as the waves thundered towards them? How did they survive when so many perished? What made them continue to film the event? What do they feel looking back at it now? How has it changed them?

Using this combination of archive and interview, the narrative becomes one of human emotions and survival instincts, tracing that disaster's terrible seven-hour timeline and massive geographic range, from the initial undersea earthquake, to the sweeping arc of destruction around the Indian Ocean, and the immediate and tragic aftermath.

Credits (Click to expand)


Max de Wardener


Paul Evans

Simon Fanthorpe

Lawrence Gardner

Siew Yaw Hoong


Pete Cowasji

Martin Geissmann

Marc Hatch

Fred Johansen

Joe Keppler


Media House

Post Production

Envy Post Production

Online Editor

Andrew Mitchell

Dubbing Mixer

Bob Jackson


Jonathan Leib


ABC News Video Footage


Andrew Jones

Andy Dunn

Ankul Charoenkul

AP Archive

Aurelie Ferrant

Benn Valsoe

Bjorn Engberg

Charoonsak Sukawatano

David Mason

Deborah Bateson

Delon Weerasinghe

Dendy Montgomery

Department Of Fisheries Thailand

Geoffrey Mackley

Getty ImagesHans-Juergen Krause

Hasyim Mulyadi

Ian White

ITN Source

Kalle Widelius

Keith and Frances Lister

Kenneth Moore


Library Media Solutions/ZDF Archive

Mark Heather

Maarten De Jong


Matt Butcher

Matthew Hermer

Meir Zaman

Mertro TV

Ove Olsson

Rene Kragelund

Reuters / Chaiwat Subprasom

Royal Thai Army Radio & Television

Stefan Kühn

Stuart T. Breisch MD

Stuart Guerin

Seksan Sirisophon

Terry Hermach

Tomi Jalonen

Tommy Lorentsen

Tongtup Sriploy

Head of Operations

Ulla Streib

Head of Legal & Business Affairs

Julia Pearce

Production Accountant

Natalie Edwards

Production Co-ordinator

Emma Lawrence

Production Manager

Pete Hirst

Archive Producers

Jack Penman

Charlie Williams


Brett Irwin

Executive Producers

Sarah Swingler

Tom Brisley


Alex Kiehl


Janice Sutherland

Janice Sutherland

Darlow Smithson Productions


Produced by

Darlow Smithson Productions

For Channel 4 & TLC

© Darlow Smithson Productions Limited.

An IMG Entertainment Company 2009

Also on CBC