Six dead and fifteen missing after as a tourist boat sinks in Colombia
At least six people have been killed and around 15 are still missing after a tourist ship in Colombia sank on a reservoir near the city of Medellin on Sunday.
Rescuers including firefighters and air force pilots in helicopters searched for survivors at the Guatape reservoir where El Almirante ferry sank. A flotilla of recreational boats and jet skis rushed to the scene, pulling people from the boat as it went down and avoiding an even deadlier tragedy.
Police commander Jorge Nieto told Blu Radio that authorities were still in the process of identifying the victims. The majority of passengers were believed to have been Colombian.
Dramatic videos circulating on social media show the turquoise-and-yellow-trimmed party boat rocking back and forth as people crawled down from a fourth-deck roof as it sank in a matter of minutes. Survivors described hearing a loud explosion near the men’s bathroom that knocked out power a few minutes after the boat began its cruise around the giant lake. As water flooded on board, pressure built and people were sucked under by the sinking ship.
“Those on the first and second decks sank immediately,” survivor Lorena Salazar told local media. “All we could do was scream and call for help….it was completely chaotic.”
In the absence of a passenger list, authorities have been relying on family numbers and survivors to report their whereabouts. Overnight they reduced to 15 the number of people missing, down from an earlier count of twice that amount. Of the 134 people who survived the crash, three remain hospitalized but are out of danger, said Margarita Moncada, the head of the disaster relief agency in Antioquia state.
A group of 25 scuba divers had to suspend their search overnight due to a lightning storm. But they resumed their work before dawn Monday in hour-long shifts, looking to sweep for trapped bodies in the frigid, algae-filled waters around the wreckage at a depth of over 30 meters (100 feet). Moncada said the hardest part for scuba divers is to safely search the area around the first deck of the boat.
It’s unclear what caused the boat to sink.
Some survivors and people who witnessed the tragedy unfold from the nearby shore said the boat appeared to be overloaded. But President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, who traveled to Guatape to oversee search efforts, said it was sailing well below capacity. None of the passengers was wearing a life vest.
“Nobody really knows what happened,” said Santos, adding that naval officials were brought in to carry out an investigation.
The reservoir surrounding the soaring rocky outcrop of El Penol is a popular weekend destination a little more than an hour from Medellin and one of the most populated tourist places in Colombia. It was especially busy Sunday as Colombians celebrated a long holiday weekend.