Five European divers missing in Indonesia

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Posted by on June 06, 2008 at 10:46:16:

In Reply to: Five scuba divers are missing. posted by John C on June 06, 2008 at 10:15:37:

KUPANG, Indonesia (AFP) Five scuba divers from Britain, France and Sweden have been missing for more than a day in seas off remote islands in Indonesia after being swept away in a current, police said Friday.

The divers -- two British women and a British man, a Swedish woman and a French man -- disappeared Thursday in the treacherous waters of the Komodo National Park in the Nusa Tenggara islands east of Bali, police said.

"A rescue team from the Indonesian police and navy conducted a search this morning for the five missing foreigners but there has been no result so far," Manggarai Barat district police chief Butje Hello said.

The husband of one of the missing British women told AFP the search was being hampered by a lack of fuel for aircraft.

"We've got a big search operation happening here but we're having trouble getting aircraft to fly because of fuel problems," said dive master Ernest Lewandowski.

"Time is critical. It's absolutely blistering hot out there," he said, his voice breaking with emotion.

Lewandowski said he and his wife Kathleen Mitchinson, who together own a dive shop on the nearby island of Flores, had been leading two separate groups of tourists on the dive.

He only noticed his wife's group was missing when his group surfaced an hour after they entered the water.

"There were three boats out today searching. I was on a speedboat going around all the beaches and everything to see if they had washed up," he said.

A search on Thursday night was called off at 3:00 am and resumed at dawn. "It's a new moon so it's very dark out there," he said.

The Komodo National Park is a popular diving destination which is well known for spectacular coral and fishlife as well as strong currents.

A lack of resources and harsh conditions meant rescuers were struggling to cover the large and sparsely populated area.

They had been offered the use of a helicopter from Kupang on Timor island but had not been able to use it because of a lack of fuel.

A commercial passenger flight headed to Labuanbajo on Saturday had promised to circle for one hour over the area where the divers went missing, but this was not enough time to make an effective search.

The Komodo National Park, which is famed for rocky and dry islands housing the giant lizard of the same name, includes waters filled with unpredictable currents and whirlpools.

Strong currents in the waters of the national park mean the divers could be carried tens of kilometres (miles) away in a matter of hours.

The Reefseekers Diving business owned by Lewandowski and Mitchinson, who are both long-time residents of Flores island, is one of only a handful of diving operators in the national park.

In London the Foreign Office said it was aware of the situation.

"We are providing the appropriate consular assistance, including liaison with the local authorities in the search," a spokeswoman said.

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