Michalis Protopsaltis, a crane operator on the Greek island of Kythera, became an unlikely Greek hero when he helped save the lives of eighty migrants whose boat was crushed on the rocks last week.
Undeterred by the darkness and strong winds, Protopsaltis rushed to the site of the wreck with his crane. What he witnessed was beyond belief he later said.
Dozens of people were struggling against the waves to climb the rocks and save themselves.
Greek hero of Kythera: I watched people fall into the sea
“We managed to save eighty people, [but] if we had delayed a bit longer, many more people would have died,” he told Greek national television, ERT.
“I watched people lose their [footing] and fall into the sea,” he added.
Protopsaltis brought his crane to the site, and he tied a big bag that he uses for construction materials and with long straps. He lowered it down the rocks.
“One or two castaways would go into the bag depending on how big the wave was, and we would raise the bag and bring them to the surface,” Protopsaltis said.
Six migrants are confirmed dead, and nine more are missing from Wednesday evening’s boat incident. Greek authorities say there were more than ninety people onboard the vessel that left the Turkish coast the previous evening to sail to Italy.
Protopsaltis was dubbed a hero. Much like all unsung heroes, he did not seek to capitalize on his philanthropic act by promoting himself in the media.
On Sunday, he received a congratulatory call from Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
Mitsotakis congratulated and thanked him for his efforts, emphasizing that Greeks will continue to save human lives placed at risk by ruthless human trafficking networks.