By Chris Graham
A tourist boat packed with about 160 passengers for the holiday weekend capsized Sunday on a reservoir near the Colombian city of Medellin, leaving at least six people dead and 31 missing, officials said.
Rescuers including firefighters and air force pilots in helicopters searched for survivors at the Guatape reservoir where El Almirante ferry sank. A flotilla of recreational boats and jet skis rushed to the scene, pulling people from the boat as it went down and avoiding an even deadlier tragedy.
Police commander Jorge Nieto told Blu Radio that authorities were still in the process of identifying the victims. The majority of passengers were believed to have been Colombian.
Margarita Moncada, the head of the disaster response agency in Antioquia state, earlier put the number of dead at nine people, with 28 missing.
The air force sent a helicopter to the Guatape reservoir near Medellin, the country’s second biggest city, in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, while the local mayor said firefighters and scuba divers were heading to the town.
“The most important thing right now is to save lives,” said Mayor Federico Gutierrez.
Dramatic videos circulating on social media showed the four-deck ship called Almirante rocking back and forth as people crawled down from a third-floor roof when the ship began sinking.
Dozens of other vessels and people on jet skis approached the vessel to try to rescue people, avoiding an even deadlier tragedy.
“The situation looks serious,” said an official with the Antioquia government.
The official said rescued people were being sent to the local hospital in Guatape.
“It sank extremely quickly. It all happened in a few minutes,” said a fire service captain involved in the rescue effort, Luis Bernardo Morales.
“What we have seen in the videos is that the boat was very close to the port… and we do not know whether it was a mechanical failure, an overloading or something to do with the currents that caused it to sink.”