BBC journalist Johanna Powell
LAOS – Search teams who had been scouring the Mekong River in Laos for BBC journalist Johanna Powell, have reportedly found a body some 25 miles downstream from where the accident happened that took her life.
Johanna Powell drowned in Laos after the traditional river cruise boat she was sailing in struck rapids, broke in two and sank within seconds.
The woman’s family in south Wales was told about the discovery but were waiting for formal identification before giving up hope that she could still be alive.
Powell was with three friends on a three-week holiday in Thailand and Laos. The four were taking part in a two-day boat trip along the Mekong, swollen by days of rain, when the vessel was damaged in rapids.
The rest of the passengers and crew members managed to swim to shore or cling to rocks before picked up by another boat but there was no sign of Powell. There were unconfirmed claims that the captain of the boat had been questioned by local police.
Powell and her three friends were taking part in a popular two-day trip down the Mekong from Thailand to Laos when their boat got into trouble in rapids. The boat was around 35 metres long with open sides and a canopy roof.
Adisak Star, the co-owner of the cruise company Negi of Mekong, which owned the boat, said: “The boat hit a rock in the rapids and sank in a minute. It was that fast. Everyone on board went into the water but there were rocks for people to cling to. They were all able to get to the river bank except for Johanna. We do not know what has happened to her.”
Star said the river had been swollen by rain and it was possible rocks had been shifted around by the strength of the current. He said the boat had broken up quickly; water had rushed in and the vessel capsized as the passengers moved to one side away from the rushing water.
One passenger said she had scrambled across the canopy to safety and described the water as being churned up like a washing machine.
Star said the boat was equipped with life jackets but said the boat got into difficulty so quickly that the passengers did not have time to put them on.
Police divers and villagers combed the river and its banks following the accident on Saturday, which happened near the village of Pak Beng.
Thousands of western tourists take the slow boat trip down the Mekong river from northern Thailand into Laos. The destination for many is the city of Luang Prabang, which has been listed as an Unesco world heritage site.
A Foreign Office spokesman said officials were helping Powell’s family. “We can confirm that a British national has been reported missing following a cruise boat incident on the Mekong river near Pak Beng, Laos,” he said. “We are liaising closely with the local authorities and are providing consular assistance to the family.”