Sun, 14 Dec 2003

Five students missing in Aceh boat accident

Nani Farida, The Jakarta Post, Banda Aceh, Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam

At least five girls, all students, were missing and presumed dead on Saturday after they jumped off their boat that was about to capsize into a river in Lhoksukon area, North Aceh, police and residents said.

Also Saturday, a 15-year old senior high school student, Sugianto, drowned while swimming in the Kahayan River in Palangka Raya, Central Kalimantan, Antara reported.

Rescue workers are searching for his body.

Twelve other students on board the boat survived the accident that occurred at around 7 a.m. in Teupen Gapeh village, Tanah Pasir subdistrict, some 20 kilometers east of Lhokseumawe, after being rescued by locals.

The five missing girls -- three junior high school students and two elementary school pupils -- were aboard the wooden boat carrying them to their schools along with the 12 survivors.

The boat was crossing the Keuruto River.

However, the students discovered their boat was leaking and quickly jumped off into the 100-meter-wide river and tried to swim to the riverbank.

The five drowned because they were unable to swim.

"When we realized water was coming into the boat, we jumped off the boat in panic. I tried to swim to the riverbank and thank God the rescuers (local villagers) managed to grab my hand," said a trembling Rahmayati, one of the survivors.

The waters were high at the time of the accident following heavy rain on Friday.

North Aceh Police chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Eko Daniyanto said a team of police, marines and official rescuers was searching for the missing students.

"We will continue trying hard to look for them, even though conditions will probably be tough," he told The Jakarta Post by phone.

The five girls, from Treng Pantang village in Lhoksukon subdistrict, were identified as Mulyana, Nurjani, Nurfalita, Sarmina, and Nurafla.

It remains unclear what caused the accident. But local officials said the strong currents in the swollen river may have triggered the accident.