Hopes Fade for Victims of Budapest Boat Tragedy

  • By Shon Jin-seok

    May 31, 2019 11:14

    Hopes were fading on Wednesday night that any of 19 Koreans who went missing in a pleasure boat accident on the Danube in Budapest might still be found alive as heavy rains hampered rescue efforts.

    Of 35 people aboard the boat, seven were rescued, but seven have been found dead and 21 including the Hungarian captain and one crewmember remain unaccounted for.

    Hungarian authorities mobilized nearly 100 fire fighters as well as military divers to search for survivors all night long, but heavy rainfall and river currents hampered their search as visibility in the choppy waters was clouded by soil and debris. "Our goal is to salvage the boat as soon as possible, but there is no telling when that will happen," a police officer said.

    People look at rescue efforts near the Margret Bridge in Budapest, Hungary on Thursday. /Yonhap

    When the accident happened, the Korean tourists, who were mostly friends and coworkers with their families, were wrapping up the fifth day of a nine-day package tour of Eastern Europe.

    The trip took them from Germany to Slovenia, Croatia and Hungary and was to have continued into Austria and the Czech Republic.

    The Hableány, which means "mermaid," set off on the fast-flowing river that had been swollen by heavy rains at 8 p.m. on Wednesday despite a thunderstorm lashing the city.

    According to the Foreign Ministry here, the accident occurred at around 9:05 p.m. as the Hableány was returning to the landing stage when the Viking Sigyn, a Swiss-registered cruise ship five times larger than the Hableány, rammed into the stern just a few hundred meters from the landing stage.

    Police told reporters that the Hableány sank in a mere seven seconds as the hull twisted on impact.

    The cruise ship Viking Sigyn (back) rams into the stern of the pleasure boat Hableány on the Danube in Budapest on Wednesday, in this video grab from Hungarian Police.

    Three generations of one family, a husband and wife, and siblings were killed in the accident. Police and firefighters in Budapest launched a rescue attempt 10 minutes after the accident but found only seven survivors and seven bodies shortly after the tragedy.

    Among the missing are a six-year-old girl from Incheon west of Seoul, her mother and grandparents. The father of the girl, identified only by his surname Kim, said, "The trip was a present for my mother-in-law, who looked after my daughter." The father stayed behind in Korea because he had to work.

    The wreck of the Hableány was found under a nearby bridge at around 2 a.m. Thursday, but there appeared to be no passengers inside.

    Cho Sung-yoon (37) was touring Budapest with 25 other Koreans aboard another sightseeing boat that cruised just behind the Hableány. The crew told Cho and the other Korean passengers to get off the boat immediately because of the accident that happened in front of them. Survivors said they were totally unprepared.

    Around 20 tourists were standing on the upper deck of the Hableány taking photos or preparing to disembark when the accident occurred. The rest were gathered on the lower deck. The passengers on the upper deck were thrown into the water when their boat was rammed.

    Some tourists claimed that the sightseeing boats did not enforce safety rules. One tourist who went on the boat ride in Budapest in the past recalled, "No staff explained safety rules to us and the cruises were never canceled despite bad weather."

    Another problem was heavy traffic along the Danube. "Hundreds of boats ply the Danube in and around Budapest each day, from small sightseeing boats to larger river cruises which dock in the city before continuing along the river," the Guardian daily reported. Hungarian news outlet 444 reported that 60 to 70 vessels operate on the Danube every night.

    President Moon Jae-in told officials Thursday to use "all means possible" to ensure that Korean rescue workers can arrive at the scene of the accident. Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-hwa will oversee the efforts. The families of victims and survivors were flown to Budapest by the travel agency that organized the tour.

    Meanwhile, Hungarian police have arrested the Ukrainian captain of the Viking Sigyn.

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