BUDAPEST: Distraught river cruise holidaymakers described watching in horror as tourists from a sightseeing boat were swept into the cold, churning waters of the Danube after a collision that caused the small vessel to sink in a matter of seconds.
The Mermaid sightseeing boat with 35 people aboard capsized almost immediately after colliding with a huge cruise vessel after dark on Wednesday in heavy rain, leaving seven South Korean tourists dead and 21 others missing.
No one was injured on the 135 metre long, four-storey-high Viking Sigyn cruise ship and passengers said they did not even feel the impact of the smash.
“We never felt any bump. We didn’t realise. We just saw people in the water. It was just terrible.”
Those who did escape the waters have described flailing in terror in the swirling current as they waited for help as those around them struggled to keep their heads above water.
“The current was so fast and people were floating away but the rescue team did not come,” a 31-year-old woman, identified only by her surname Jung, told the Yonhap news agency at a Budapest hotel where the survivors were taken.
Jung clung on to a rescue buoy and threw an attached rope to fellow passenger Yoon, 32, according to Yonhap.
BOAT ‘FLIPPED INSTANTLY’
Most of the South Korean tourists on the Mermaid were in their 50s and 60s, although the youngest passenger in the group was a six-year-old girl travelling with her mother and grandparents. She remains missing.
Jung said she was among passengers on the deck taking photos of the city view at night when the boats collided.
Fellow survivor Yoon, who had been travelling with her mother, said the boat went down within seconds, tipping everyone from the deck into the river.
“The boat flipped instantly and capsized,” she said.
Around 10 others who remained in the cabin were believed to have been unable to escape, she said.
Hungarian police said civilians had helped to rescue people from the water until the emergency services arrived at the scene.
The survivors said the rescue operation began too late and raised questions over why the cruise went ahead in heavy rainfall.
“The relief team that showed up later just took people like me, who were already holding on to tubes, out of the water,” said 60-year-old survivor surnamed Ahn.
‘NEVER SAW ANYBODY COME UP’
‘TOO MANY BOATS’
Conflicting accounts have emerged of the collision, while sailors told AFP that there were too many vessels on the river, often with crews unable to communicate with each other due to language barriers.
“There are too many boats on the river,” a Russian sailor from another ship said.
All day local people lined the riverbank near the accident site watching as an army vessel examined the sunken boat with sonar equipment to assess how to lift it.
Some passersby laid flowers for the victims.