Bodies of all but nine of the 28 victims of a deadly boat crash in the Hungarian capital have been recovered in an intensive search up and down the Danube involving units on water, air and land, Hungarian police said on Friday.
The Mermaid, a pleasure boat carrying 33 South Korean tourists and two Hungarian crew, capsized and sank on May 29 after a large cruise liner struck it from behind as both vessels passed under a bridge in the centre of Budapest.
Seven Koreans were saved and 19 bodies have been recovered so far in the worst accident in more than half a century on Europe’s longest river. Among those still missing and presumed dead are the Hungarian captain and a Korean child.
The recovery operation, mounted by Hungarian and South Korean divers, has been hampered by flood waters and strong currents in the river.
“We have six patrol boats in Budapest… and a further nine downstream from the capital… all the way to the Serbian border,” the captain of the Danube Waterborne Police, Richard Prohaszka, said on Friday. “We use sonar, night vision equipment and canine units.”
Dogs have located three of the victims along the riverbank, Prohaszka said. The body of a Hungarian deck hand was found late on Thursday as it washed ashore near a busy Budapest embankment.
Work continues to salvage the vessel as soon as possible and identify the bodies as they are found, officials said on Thursday.
Divers welded hooks and inserted rods under the sunken Mermaid, their work hampered by strong currents and zero visibility in the river. Once the gear is in place, a giant floating salvage crane will be used to lift the wreck.
But water levels, which were unusually high due to rains and melting snow in the higher parts of the Danube basin, were receding more slowly than anticipated, the National Water Authority OVF told the state news agency MTI on Friday.
At OVF’s request, Slovak authorities upstream have agreed to divert water into reservoirs to help lower the river level, so the floating crane can pass under Budapest’s bridges to reach the site. The Danube is expected to reach its normal depth by next Wednesday, the OVF said.