Search hope fades after seven Korean tourists die in river crash

Top News | AGENCIES 31 May 2019

Hungarian rescue officials say there is little chance of finding survivors after a boat carrying South Korean tourists sank on the Danube in Budapest, killing at least seven people and leaving 21 people missing.

The Mermaid sightseeing boat collided with a much larger luxury passenger boat during a rainstorm late on Wednesday near the parliament building, capsized and sank with some 30 tourists on board. The cause of the collision was under investigation.

Seven other Koreans were rescued.

"I am not inclined to say there is no hope, so I would rather say there is a minimal chance [of finding survivors]," Pal Gyorfi, a spokesman of the Hungarian national ambulance service, said.

"This is not just because of the water temperature, but the strong currents in the river, the vapor above the water surface, as well as the clothes worn by the people who fell in."

Police said the Mermaid turned on its side and sank within seconds after colliding with the Viking Sigyn under a bridge.

They said a criminal investigation was under way against "an unknown perpetrator," involving experts, to determine the cause of the accident. They said the first calls for help came in 10 minutes after the accident happened.

Thirty-five people were on board the 26-meter Mermaid when it sank, most of them South Korean tourists including a six-year-old girl. Police showed journalists security camera footage from a bridge in which the Mermaid is seen colliding with the much bigger Viking Sigyn.

"The footage shows that before the collision the Mermaid turned toward the Viking Sigyn, for some reason, the Viking then turned the small boat over, and it sank within seven seconds," police said.

Police were questioning the Ukrainian captain of the Sigyn.

Fifteen boats are involved in the search for those still unaccounted for, including the Hungarian captain and crew member. Three bodies have already been found several kilometers south of the disaster site, police said.

The sunken boat was located yesterday near the Margit Bridge, not far from the neo-Gothic Parliament building on the riverbank.

South Korea's Foreign Minister Kang Kyung Wha is due in Budapest today and the country is also sending a relief team.

Gyorfi said that seven rescued people were taken to hospital with symptoms of hypothermia and shock.

The river, which is 450 meters wide at the point of the accident, was fast-flowing and rising as heavy rain continued in the city. Water temperatures were about 10 to 12 degrees Celsius.

The boat was regularly serviced and had no apparent technical faults, said Mihaly Toth, a spokesman for its owner Panorama Deck. "It was a routine sightseeing trip," said Toth.

The accident happened on a popular part of the Danube river for pleasure trips, from where passengers can view the city and parliament building illuminated at night.

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