Monday 5 December 2016

'There was a moment we thought he might come back to life' - man who took poignant photograph of drowned migrant baby

Published 03/06/2016 | 07:58

Migrants attend to disembark from the Italian Navy Vega vessel, in Reggio Calabria, southern Italy, after being rescued in the Mediterranean Sea off the coasts of Libya (AP Photo/Adriana Sapone)
Migrants attend to disembark from the Italian Navy Vega vessel, in Reggio Calabria, southern Italy, after being rescued in the Mediterranean Sea off the coasts of Libya (AP Photo/Adriana Sapone)

The man who took the poignant photograph of a drowned migrant baby in the arms of a rescuer said there was a moment when their ship's crew believed the infant would come back to life.

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Christian Büttner was aboard a rescue boat operated by German humanitarian organisation c when the baby, who is understood to be no more than a year old, was pulled from the sea after the capsizing of a wooden boat.

Friday's incident hit the headlines when the picture, taken by Büttner, was distributed to media channels on Monday in a bid to encourage European authorities to ensure safe passage to migrants.

Forty-five bodies arrived in the southern Italian port of Reggio Calabria on Sunday aboard an Italian navy ship, which picked up 135 survivors from the same incident.

"We were hoping that we could offer a helping hand to the crew...at one point we were pulling migrants on board...we were able to rescue some of the people from drowning and bring them to the Italian vessel,"  Büttner told Newstalk in a pre-recorded interview this morning.

"When we returned [to where the boat had capsized] we realised that we were sailing through a sea of drowned people. We felt we owed it to these people to put life jackets on them so that they could be reocvered. We were driving around for a couple of hours before we saw the baby."

The media production company had been on board to capture footage for a 45 minute documentary for German television.

Like the photograph of the three-year-old Syrian boy Aylan lying lifeless on a Turkish beach last year, the image puts a human face on the more than 8,000 people who have died in the Mediterranean since the start of 2014.

Little is known about the child other than it is a boy. The rescuer, who is a father of three and a music therapist by profession began to sing to him in an attempt to comfort himself and the baby - even though it had already passed away.

"There was water coming out of the baby's mouth and there was a moment that we thought it might come back to life," Büttner said.

In an email to Reuters, the rescuer, who gave his name as Martin but did not want his family name published, said he had spotted the baby in the water "like a doll, arms outstretched".

"I took hold of the forearm of the baby and pulled the light body protectively into my arms at once, as if it were still alive ... It held out its arms with tiny fingers into the air, the sun shone into its bright, friendly but motionless eyes."

The rescuer, a father of three and by profession a music therapist, added: "I began to sing to comfort myself and to give some kind of expression to this incomprehensible, heart-rending moment. Just six hours ago this child was alive."

More than 2,500 migrants have died so far this year attempting to cross the Mediterranean according to the UN.

This number represents a 25pc increase on the same period last year.

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