By Marton Dunai BUDAPEST, June 3 (Reuters) – A body was pulled from the Danube more than 100 km downstream from Budapest, officials said on Monday, the first apparent victim recovered since the night of a boat crash presumed to have killed 28 people.
South Korean and Hungarian divers prepared on Monday for an attempt to recover bodies from the wreck of The Mermaid, which sank on Wednesday carrying 33 South Korean tourists and two Hungarian crew, in the river’s worst disaster in half a century.
The Mermaid capsized after being struck from behind by a large cruise liner near a bridge in the center of Budapest.
The bodies of seven South Koreans were recovered on the night of the disaster and seven were rescued alive. Nineteen other Korean passengers and the two crew members have been missing since the accident and presumed dead.
“One dead body, looks like Korean, already found 100 km from here,” the South Korean embassy’s Defence Attache Shun-Keun Song told reporters. Hungarian Police spokesman Kristof Gal told Reuters authorities were still trying to identify the body and could not yet confirm that it was from The Mermaid.
Many of the bodies are believed to still be trapped inside the wreck, which divers have not been able to reach since the accident because of high flood waters and strong currents. South Korea sent its own recovery team which joined the operation on Monday.
“We are cooperating with Korean colleagues; this is a joint operation now,” Janos Hajdu, the chief of Hungary’s counter-terrorism center TEK and the leader of the recovery operation on the Hungarian side, told a press conference.
Early on Monday, a Korean diver was being prepared by a team on a barge while South Korean and Hungarian rescue personnel manned several rubber speedboats on the fast flowing river.
“The point of entry is on the barge located at the scene of the accident,” the South Korean rescue team said in a statement. “Today, diving is not about attempting to enter the ship, but for understanding the situation first.”
The South Korean rescue team aims to recover bodies while the shipwreck is still on the river bed, while Hungarians are looking at that option as well as the possibility of lifting the hull out of the water first.
TEK’s Hajdu said conditions had improved enough to launch several exploratory missions a day to the wreck.
One heavy diver was able to descend to the riverbed, leave the ladder and begin to explore the wreck from the outside, Hajdu said, adding that entering it was potentially lethal and banned.
“If we find bodies we will do everything to respect funerary aspects,” Hajdu said, adding the recovery of the bodies was the top priority.
Lifting the ship would only be possible once the waters subside enough for Hungary’s largest crane to fit under the bridges of Budapest and approach the site, he said.
NEARBY SHIP HEARD NO WARNING
The Ukrainian captain of the Viking Sigyn cruise liner which collided with The Mermaid has been detained and faces a criminal investigation. He denies wrongdoing.
Video footage from surveillance cameras on the bridge and on the shore show the bigger ship bearing down on the smaller vessel as they both pass under the bridge.
A captain of another boat on duty nearby at the time of the accident told private news channel TV2 on Sunday that the captain of the cruise liner never radioed the smaller vessel.
“We heard nothing of any kind of an attempted overtaking maneuver, warning, or danger signal on the radio,” Zoltan Tolnay said. After the crash, the Ukrainian captain used an unintelligible mix of Russian, English and German words, Tolnay said.
“I only learned from a later Hungarian shipping statement that there had been a disaster.” (Additional reporting by Krisztina Than, Krisztina Fenyo and Fedja Grulovic Editing by John Stonestreet and Raissa Kasolowsky)
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