Indonesian police yesterday said they believe villagers on Bali have spotted two Japanese scuba divers alive four days after they went missing, following the astonishing rescue of five others in the same group.
A huge search swung into action on Friday when the group of female divers disappeared after setting out on a diving expedition from Nusa Lembongan, just east of the island of Bali.
As days passed hopes faded that any of the women, all experienced divers, would be found alive in an area known for its stunning underwater beauty but also strong, unpredictable currents.
However, fishermen found five of the women clinging to a coral reef in rough waters on Monday, about 20km from where they set off, and rescuers plucked them to safety in a helicopter and lifeboat.
Yesterday police said that villagers had reported seeing two people on a coral reef near the same area sending distress signals by shining lights the previous night.
“We believe they are the missing Japanese divers and they are alive,” local police chief Nyoman Suarsika said.
He said rescuers were on the way to the area close to Manta Point, off Nusa Penida Island, which lies next to Nusa Lembongan.
“We have not been able to reach them yet,” he added.
Rescue agency officials said earlier that a helicopter and two boats had been dispatched to the area to search for the remaining divers.
The five women who have been rescued are all in hospital in Bali. They have suffered dehydration and sunburn, but none are in a serious condition, doctors said.
“We caused many people so much worry over this case,” one of the divers, Saori Furukawa, wrote in a note handed to Japanese media from her hospital bed.
“I would like to take a rest for a while, hoping the remaining two are alive,” she added.
Kazuo Shibata, consul-general at the Japanese consulate in Bali, told Japanese media he had visited four of the divers and that they were fine.
“They were moved to tears when I told them, ‘It’s so good you were rescued,’” he said.
The news was splashed across the front page of major newspapers in Japan, many carrying images of one rescued woman lying on a stretcher, while TV news also supplied regular coverage of the dramatic scene.
Friends and colleagues of the two still missing said they were clinging to the belief they were alive.
“I believe the two still missing are floating somewhere near the spot where the five were discovered,” said diving instructor Toru Furuyama, 40, who knows one of the pair.
Another friend Hideki Terayama, an underwater photographer who helped with an effort to raise funds to search for the divers, wrote on Facebook: “Let’s pray that the other two will be found.”
Furuyama said it was likely the rescued divers had managed to survive by floating in a group.
“That means they can cheer each other up and support each other, mentally and physically,” he said.
He also said they may have benefited from the weather: “It’s their rainy season there, so it’s relatively easy to harvest rainwater while floating on the sea.”