After years of searching, a chief mate sailor who saved 51 Vietnamese refugees in 1978 was reunited with a group of them 44 years later.
One of the refugees, Lisa Dam, was 19 years old when she escaped from Vietnam after the fall of Saigon. While on a fishing boat with 50 others, including 33 adults and 18 children, the group got lost in the South China Sea.
Dam said that several ships had passed by and did not rescue the group. A chief mate sailor on a container ship, however, saw the lost fishing boat and convinced his captain to bring all 51 refugees aboard to safety.
“I’m the captain’s right-hand man. He told me, ‘Go down on the boat, tell them they can have all the food and all the water, but we really can’t take them up,’” Georg Pedersen, now 88, told NBC News’ Vicky Nguyen. “If somebody needs help, you give them help.”
Pedersen spent several years trying to find the group and finally made a breakthrough when his neighbor tracked down one of the refugees, Nguyen Minh, on a list of names that the 88-year-old kept of all 51 people. Minh was the first to reunite with Pedersen in 2018.
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Dam thanked Pedersen while shaking his hand during their reunion and credited him for saving the groups’ lives.
“You did it. Without you, we would not have been here,” Dam told Pedersen.
Two other refugees, Truong Anh, who is now an attorney for Los Angeles, and his brother Van, were 4 and 9 years old when escaping with the group in 1978. Truong recounted the moment the ship’s crew brought him and the other refugees onto the container ship.
“I do remember, seeing for the first time, huge men with blue eyes, big muscles, literally carrying us from the little boat,” Truong told Nguyen. Van said that being rescued “changed everything for us.”
The group raised a toast for Pedersen at their reunion event and expressed their gratitude for the 88-year-old.
“You were the right person, at the right place at the right time,” Truong told Pederson during their celebratory toast.
Pedersen is now hoping to find and reunite with the remaining 23 refugees.