Five of seven missing Japanese divers found alive in Bali

Kyodo, AFP-JIJI

Five of the seven female Japanese scuba divers who vanished Friday off Bali were rescued Monday after being found a dozen miles away from their last dive site clinging to a reef on the southern coast of Nusa Penida island, officials said.

The five were identified as Saori Furukawa, 37, Aya Morizono, 27, Emi Yamamoto, 33, Nahomi Tomita, 28, and Atsumi Yoshidome, 29.

Still missing are Ritsuko Miyata, 59, and Shoko Takahashi, 35.

Furukawa and Takahashi are the locally based instructors who led the expedition, run through dive shop Yellow Scuba.

At a news conference Monday evening, rescue officials in Bali said the five had incurred minor abrasions but were not in serious condition. Fishermen spotted them in the afternoon some 20 km away from their last known diving point, which was near adjacent Nusa Lembongan island, but could not reach them because the waves were too high.

One was later rescued by a helicopter that also dropped food to the other four, who were to be picked up by a rescue boat for transport to Semawang beach near Dempasar, the provincial capital.

“There were five found atop a large coral reef” at Manta Point, said Rudi Tjandi, an official from the Bali disaster agency. “The waves and current were quite strong, so the fishermen who spotted them couldn’t approach.”

The group of seven had set off for their third dive Friday near the mangrove area of Nusa Lembongan, one of two small islands just west of Nusa Penida, but never surfaced. The shortest route to where they ended up was around 20 km long.

“They are in weak condition,” Nusa Penida police chief Nyoman Suarsika said.

The three islands are popular dive spots situated off Bali’s southeast coast. The divers’ disappearance triggered a huge search early Saturday, but rescuers were hampered by poor weather that included heavy rain and strong winds.

By Monday afternoon, however, the women had been spotted in waters about 300 meters off Nusa Penida, Suarsika said. He did not elaborate on the fate of the remaining two divers.

Nusa Lembongan is popular with seasoned scuba divers for its clear waters, coral reefs and tropical fish, but is also known for its fast currents.

Ketut Nata, 69, the Balinese father-in-law of the other instructor, Shoko Takahashi, expressed hope they would be found soon, dead or alive.

Since Saturday, Nata said he and his family have been praying at a temple every day, hoping for her safety.

In the arms of their weeping son Putu Mahardana, Nata’s wife, Nyoman Taman, could not stop crying at the prospect of losing her beloved daughter-in-law.

Takahashi and Mahardana once worked together at a diving company owned by one of his relatives. They married in 2004 and set up their own company, Yellow Scuba, which was involved in running Friday’s dive.

The search is set to continue until at least Tuesday but could be extended.