Good fun and late-night partying at a secluded campsite turned into tragedy when a 23-year-old French tourist drowned in Taroko National Park on Monday while swimming in the Liwu River (立霧溪).
The body of the man, surnamed Savier, was recovered on Monday by a Hualien County emergency rescue team. It was found downstream, at a sandbar in the riverbed near the 171km point of the Central Cross-Island Highway.
Savier had been part of a group made up of five French and one American that went camping over the weekend at the park’s Lushuei Campsite (綠水露營區), according to a police report.
The fire department in Hualien County received a call at about 19 minutes past midnight on Monday, requesting help in searching for a missing person after he headed for a swim.
According to media reports, the group had been barbequing and drinking. During the night they walked down a narrow footpath to reach the river after allegedly breaking a fence erected by the park’s administration.
The fence had been set up to prevent people from accessing the rock-strewn river, which has surging currents. The river’s rushing flow helped shape the scenic marble gorge over time.
After realizing Savier had gone missing, the others said they searched for him for more than 10 minutes before they decided to call the police.
“Savier took off all his clothes and got into the water for a swim, but he was washed away by the current, and he disappeared all of a sudden,” local press quoted one of the tourists as saying.
The fire department rescue team looked for Savier along the river gorge through the night.
They were joined in the morning by a local Red Cross emergency rescue team.
The body was found at about 11am some distance downstream.
It took several rescue team members more than an hour to transport the body from the riverbed through several hundred meters of wooded terrain to the roadside.
According to a Taroko National Park Administrative Center official, visitors do not need to register to use the Lushuei Campsite.
However, it is illegal to go beyond the campsite area, as is breaking through or climbing the fencing to swim in the river (National Park Act, 國家公園法), he added.
It is not known if the group was barbecuing and drinking alcohol on the campgrounds, the official said.
According to media reports, the rest of the group were very rude and stuck up their middle fingers, cursed and threw rocks at TV crews and journalists who arrived at the scene to cover the news.
Police officers separated the group and journalists when a scuffle almost broke out between them.
According to people who had watched the videos of the confrontation posted on the Internet, the tourists refused to be interviewed, and were upset at the attempts by the media crews and journalists to photograph their dead companion.
Some netizens were sympathetic and gave support to the tourists because they felt that the media had disrespected their privacy.
Other netizens said the foreign tourists deserved no sympathy and were arrogant to act in an aggressive manner after they violated the law with late-night partying and drinking inside the national park, followed by illegally breaking the fence and swimming in a dangerous river.
Several people pointed to the hazards of Liwu River with its rocks, strong currents and unpredictable water level.
They said that said such a tragedy was bound to happen, and only foolish people would go for a midnight swim in total darkness in a dangerous river after drinking alcohol.