Sun, Jun 08, 2008 - Page 4 News List

Five missing divers found in Indonesia

RESCUEDThree Britons, a Frenchman and a Swede, who had been found by fishermen, were in good shape after having spent about 40 hours adrift

AFP , KUPANG, INDONESIA

British diver Kathleen Mitchinson, center, hugs her husband Ernest Lewandowski upon arriving at Labuanbajo port in Indonesia yesterday. Mitchinson is one of five European divers who fought off a komodo dragon and survived on shellfish for two nights after being washed up on a deserted Indonesian island, which doubles as a dragon reserve, a French survivor said.

PHOTO: AFP

Five European divers who had been missing for two days in treacherous waters east of Bali were found drifting but alive by fishermen yesterday, Indonesian police said.

Police in the Nusa Tenggara island chain where the divers went missing late on Thursday said fishermen spotted them south of the tiny island of Rinca.

“Fishermen found them floating in the water. They are all safe,” Manggarai Barat district police chief Butje Hello told reporters.

There were emotional scenes at the sleepy port of Labuanbajo, western Flores island, when the divers — three Britons, a Frenchman and a Swede — returned to dry land after about 40 hours drifting in tropical waters.

“They are really in good health with no wounds whatsoever. They walked by themselves and hugged each other and cried when they reached the port,” local policeman Victor Jumadu said.

“They were at the port for only five minutes and went straight to the health clinic,” he said.

A British couple who own a dive shop in Labuanbajo were leading the divers in two groups when the wife’s group was apparently swept away in strong currents on Thursday afternoon.

Dive master Ernest Lewandowski told reporters he was ecstatic that his wife, Kathleen Mitchinson, and their guests had been found safe.

“They are all alive and medical services are on standby. Thank God. I just want to hear my wife’s voice,” he said before rushing to the port to wait for their return.

Police said at least one of the divers was dehydrated but otherwise their condition was not known. A British embassy spokeswoman confirmed that doctors were tending to them.

“We are still in close contact with the local authorities,” the embassy spokeswoman said in Jakarta.

A lack of fuel for aircraft meant police had to call on fishermen to help cover the vast search area, after only three search boats could be deployed on Friday.

A commercial aircraft that was scheduled to fly over the area yesterday morning had promised to circle for an hour, but in the end it was not needed.

Lewandowski said he and his wife, who own the Reefseekers Diving business on Flores, were leading two separate groups of divers when his wife’s group got into difficulty.

He only became aware they were missing when his group surfaced an hour after entering the water.

The divers were exploring reefs in the Komodo National Park — famed for the giant lizard of the same name — when they vanished in the late afternoon on Thursday.

The area lies about 500km east of the popular tourist resort island of Bali.

It is well known for its teeming sealife at dive sites up to 40m deep.

Small reef sharks are common but divers say the main threat comes from currents formed by the combination of relatively shallow water, large depth variations and the channels formed between islands.

The currents can reach eight knots and develop suddenly during tide changes.

A tired or inexperienced diver caught in such a rip could be carried tens of kilometers in a matter of hours and for this reason dive operators do not recommend the area for beginners.

Lewandowski said he and his wife were both experienced divers whose shop was one of only a handful of such businesses that operates in the national park.

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