Boat crash on the Danube: Search for 21 missing continues, wreckage inaccessible

2019.05.31. 13:14

This article will be continuously updated as more information becomes available.
Latest update: 14:28

The search for the 21 people missing since the horrific accident on the Danube in Budapest, Hungary continues on Friday. The crash involved the sightseeing boat Hableány (Mermaid) and river cruiser Viking Sigyn, and the authorities still haven't found any other victims apart from the seven survivors and seven people who died after Sigyn rammed into Hableány at 9:05 PM on Wednesday night. As Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Péter Szijjártó informed, the remains of the Hableány are still inaccessible to divers due to the harsh circumstances, but the main goal now is to find the 21 missing people and to lift the wreckage of the sightseeing boat from the Danube as soon as possible. First sonar image of the wreckage laying on its side was released this morning. 

Ne maradjon le semmiről!

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We have covered the accident in detail yesterday, however, here is what we know so far:

  • Wednesday at 9:05 PM, 135-metre, the 1000-ton river cruise ship Viking Sygin rammed the rear of the 40-ton, 27-metre sightseeing boat Hableány (Mermaid) as they were heading North and passing under Margit bridge. The Hableány capsized and disappeared under the Sigyn within seconds with 35 people onboard: 31 South Korean tourists, their two tour guides, and the 2-member Hungarian crew of the Hableány. Seven South Korean citizens are confirmed dead, and the seven survivors - all of them South Koreans - were picked up by civilian boats. Sigyn has immediately moored at the Carl Lutz quay after passing under the bridge. The CEO of Panoráma Deck, the company that was operating Hableány told Index that the Hableány was maintained regularly and they had no knowledge of an apparent mechanical failure. Police have released the following CCTV footage of the accident on Thursday morning:
  •  As of yet, it is unclear how the small vessel ended up in front of the Sigyn: officials at the first police press conference on Thursday morning said that Hableány manoeuvred itself in front of Sigyn, however, Attila Bencsik, the president of the Hungarian Federation of Inland Water Transportation told M1 Friday morning that video footage of the accident clearly shows that it was Sigyn that changed her course before the accident. He said the cruiser should have reduced speed and waited for the smaller boat to pass under the bridge. As the expert said, the waves created by the Sigyn must have pulled Hableány towards the cruiser, and the sightseeing boat turned sideways and capsized because of the flat shape of Sigyn's bow that did not push Hableány out of the way but instead, together with the water pressure of the flooding Danube, forced it under the hull. The movement of the two ships is visible on the video footage recorded by a camera of Hungarian weather site
  • The initial rescue was handled by nearby civilian boats who helped to save the survivors. Hungarian radio station Trend FM released audio footage of the radio traffic recorded moments after the accident, here it is in our translation:
  •  As police informed on Thursday morning, search and rescue operations started immediately after the accident despite the flooding Danube and the severe weather conditions. The operations involve rescue workers of the Police, the Directorate General for Disaster Management, the National Ambulance Service, the special task force Counter Terrorism Centre, the Hungarian Defence Forces, the General Directorate of Water Management, the Nationwide Civil Self-Defence Organizations, and the Pest County Search and Rescue Service.
  • The seven survivors were taken to three different hospitals, from where six of them were already released, the only tourist still in hospital sustained rib fractures, but is in a stable condition.
  • The bodies of seven victims were found in the Danube on the first night. The stream quickly carried the victims away from the scene of the accident, as the first body was lifted from the waters around five kilometres downstream near Rákóczi bridge around 9:30 PM, but one of the victims was found as far as 9 kilometres from where the two vessels collided. Police have released the following map showing the location where the deceased passengers of Hableány were lifted from the water:
  • The South Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs, Kang Kyung-wha, has travelled to Hungary along with a team of experts who will be aiding the Hungarian authorities in the search. Austria has also offered to help, the special diving team Cobra has already arrived at Budapest and will be cooperating with the Hungarian authorities. Families of the so-far identified victims of the accident are also being flown in to Budapest by the "Very Good Tours," the South Korean travel agency that organised the trip of the tourist group involved in the fatal catastrophe.
  • A crane vessel arrived at the scene at around 7:00 PM on Thursday, and around that time, the first diving operation occured, but the diver returned to the surface shortly after submerging, as our colleague reported from the spot. 
  • Police have launched an investigation involving nautical experts with the suspecion of criminal endangerment of water transportation resulting in a mass catastrophe. At 9:05 PM on Thursday, police announced that they have taken C. Yuriy, the 64-year-old Ukrainian captain of Viking Sigyn into custody, and officers interrogated the captain as a suspect, against which he has made an official complaint. Police has since detained the captain.
  • As of 1:00 PM on Friday morning, none of the missing 21 were found, and the Hableány is still under the surface. Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs said that a long, drawn-out search and rescue operation is expected and that the wreckage of the Hableány is still inaccessible to divers due to the dangerous conditions on the flooding Danube.
  • The captain of Viking Sigyn denies misconduct.
  • The first pictures of the wreckage were released.

First pictures of the wreckage released

The first sonar images of the wreckage were shown Friday morning on Hungarian news channel ATV. The pictures show the Hableány laying on its side on the bottom of the Danube, the wreck's highest point is two metres below the surface while the lowest is 7.5 metres underwater. The image was taken by rescue worker László Balázs.

The captain of Viking Sigyn denies misconduct

The suspect of the ongoing criminal investigation in connection with the accident, C. Yuriy, the 64-year old captain of cruise ship Viking Sigyn denied any misconduct via a statement made by his lawyer, dr. Balázs M. Tóth. The lawyer stated that the captain made an official complaint with regard to the accusation made against him: According to the captain's defender, it was premature to name Yuriy as a suspect this early on, as the available evidence is not enough to raise reasonable suspicion. The lawyer that such an accusation should have only been made after the police have received the opinions of the experts involved in the investigation, however, these experts are just now being assigned to the case.

The lawyer said that Yuriy is one of the most experienced captain on the Danube, and that he has never caused an accident. The man is shaken by what happened on Wednesday night, and he sent his condolences to the families of the victims, and expressed his regret that he had no way of avoiding the disaster. 

Joint press conference of South Korean and Hungarian FMs

The search for the 21 people missing after horrible accident on the Danube continues
On Friday morning at 11:00, South Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs Kang Kyung-wha and her Hungarian colleague, FM Péter Szijjártó held a joint press conference about the horrific accident on Wednesday night.

Péter Szijjártó first expressed his condolences to the South Korean nation and to those who are personally affected by the tragedy and wished a quick recovery for the seven survivors. The Hungarian minister informed the press that several hundred people of the disaster relief services, the paramedics, the water rescue services, the police, the civil guard, the army and the special police task force TEK are working tirelessly to find the 21 people missing since the accident. The Minister said that the water rescue services are still expecting a long search operation, and they are cooperating with the Serbian authorities as it is not at all unimaginable that their help would also be necessary.

Szijjártó said that the main goal now is to lift the shipwreck from the Danube as soon as possible and to recover the missing people who may still be inside the hull of the boat, but this is more difficult than expected, as rescue workers battle dangerous circumstances. A diver already submerged yesterday, but could not access the wreckage: visibility is zero, the speed of the Danube is now around 15 km/h, and the discharge of the river exceeds 4000 cubic metres per second, it is flooding, and water levels are expected to rise 70 more centimetres. Still, preparations are being made to lift the remains of Hableány - a crane vessel and its support boats are already on the Danube near Margit bridge.

The Minister said that the special task force TEK is coordinating the efforts at the scene and that the two ministers visited TEK's command centre at the location of the accident with the South Korean minister, where they met the divers who will be taking part in the recovery of Hableány's wreckage that is six metres underwater. The Hungarian authorities are already working together with an Austrian special diving team, and the experts from South Korea will be arriving later on Friday.

Szijjártó confirmed that the 64-year old Ukrainian captain of the Viking Sigyn was taken into custody. Police interrogated him as a suspect, and they proposed his detainment. The captain has made an official complaint about being accused, but not against being detained.

Kang Kyung-wha, the Foreign Minister of South Korea expressed her gratitude for the painstaking work done by the Hungarian authorities, and she said that South Korea will provide all the assistance necessary to find and identify the victims of the horrible catastrophe.

(Cover: Orsi Ajpek / Index)

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