BALI – Five of seven Japanese scuba divers who went missing three days ago off the coast of the Indonesian resort island of Bali have been found alive, clinging to a coral reef, police said on Monday.
The divers, all women, were spotted by fishermen about 300 metres off the coast of Nusa Penida, a small island south-east of Bali, according to Kyodo news agency. Between entering the water on Friday afternoon and their rescue on Monday, the women had drifted 20km, surviving high winds and driving rain.
Rescue officials told a news conference on Monday evening that two of the seven divers remain missing and that while the five rescued suffered minor abrasions, none is in serious condition.
One survivor was taken off the reef by helicopter, which also dropped food to the remaining four, none of whom are thought to have had anything to eat or drink during their three-day ordeal. They were later picked up by a rescue boat and taken to a nearby beach resort in southern Bali for medical treatment, local reports said.
“There were five found on top of a large coral reef,” Rudi Tjandi, an official from the Bali disaster agency, told AFP. “The waves and current were quite strong, so the fishermen who spotted them couldn’t approach them.”
The fate of two other female divers remains unknown. Suarsika identified one of the five rescued divers as Saori Furukawa, one of two locally based Japanese instructors who were accompanying five tourists when they disappeared during a scuba diving excursion off the island of Nusa Lembongan, just east of Bali, on Friday afternoon.
Japanese consular officials said they were trying to confirm the identities of the four other women found on Monday.
Fears had grown for the women after repeated searches of the area, involving more than 100 people, failed to establish their whereabouts. Details have yet to emerge of how the divers ended up taking refuge on a reef, or what problems they experienced during the dive.
Crystal Bay, located off Nusa Lembongan, is a popular destination among divers hoping to explore its underwater mangroves and mola-mola, or ocean sunfish. The area is part of the Coral Triangle, regarded as one of the richest underwater environments in the world.
But it is also notorious for the sudden arrival of strong downward currents, and is recommended for experienced divers only. All seven Japanese divers were described as very experienced, having made more than 50 dives each.
The same bay was closed temporarily in August 2012 after two divers, a Danish man and Japanese woman, died in the same week.
There was speculation that the divers’ visibility had been impaired by a squall, which quickly turned the water cloudy, according to the skipper of their boat. The Asahi Shimbun quoted the skipper as saying he had followed the divers for about 20 minutes after they left the boat before a sudden downpour made it impossible to keep track of them. He said he had spent an hour searching for them after they failed to resurface at an agreed location.
But Didi Hamzar, the head of Bali province search and rescue, challenged that account, telling reporters on Sunday that he had information suggesting that the skipper had left the area to refuel before heading to the agreed meeting spot.
Relatives of the divers, three of whom are believed to be nurses at Kobe University hospital, arrived on Bali to join the search. They included the mother of Shoko Takahashi, the second instructor. “I’m praying for her safety,” she told reporters in Japan before leaving for Bali.
Takahashi’s mother described her daughter as “active” and dependable, and unlikely to do anything that would put her safety at risk. Takahashi and her Balinese husband set up Yellow Scuba, the diving operator that organised last Friday’s dive.
Kenichi Takeyama, a local consular official, said relatives were desperate for more information. “The family members are understandably very concerned and they want to know all the details – what the conditions were like, what the current and temperature were like,” he said.
Aside from Furukawa and Takahashi, Japanese media identified the five other divers as Ritsuko Miyata, Emi Yamamoto, Nahomi Tomita, Aya Morizono, and Atsumi Yoshinobe. The women are in their 20s to 50s.
The search for the remaining two divers is due to resume on Tuesday, and may be extended.