UGANDA (eTN) – Four passengers on a sundowner trip on the Nile, above Murchisons Falls, were found alive on a little rocky island last night. Two others appear to still be missing as this story goes to print.
A combined rescue mission was called in through the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces, which dispatched a helicopter and divers in short notice to sweep the downstream islands for signs of the passengers or the boat, which was also still missing when the survivors were found.
The alarm was raised when the boat did not return within the scheduled time. It is not clear at this stage if an engine failure or a collision with either a rocky outcrop in the river or maybe a hippo could have caused it to capsize. Good news though on the rescue of four while the anxiety understandably continues for the fate of the remaining two missing.
Said a source not officially authorized to speak to the media but close to the incident: “This might call for a review of safety measures when such river trips are operated. The waters of the Nile can be tricky in this part with a lot of rocks not easily seen. Timing is also an issue because trips in the late afternoon push rescue or recovery efforts into the night when it is not very easy to assist someone stranded.”
Chobe Safari Lodge arranged a third familiarization trip for 26 local travel agents on April 9 and 10, 2011. The purpose of the tour was to create awareness of the new property and its facilities, to enable the travel agents to promote the lodge with more insight, and at the same time promote their businesses.
The agents were split into groups for the boat ride on the Nile River, and the last group of 5 agents, as well as the coxswain, left for a sunset cruise on the boat at 5:30 pm. This particular boat is a brand-new, double-hull vessel – built to the highest standards in South Africa – fitted with all-flotation devices and life-jackets. As per the standard operating practice, the coxswain informed all the passengers about the safety procedures and instructed them to wear life-jackets. Unfortunately, during the launch trip, the propeller of the boat hit some submerged rocks and the engine stalled. The coxswain immediately threw out the anchor, but failed to stabilize the boat as the area had many rapids. The unusually strong river currents made the boat unstable, thereby throwing all on board into the river.
When the boat had not returned to the lodge within the short trip-time of 30 minutes, the lodge management informed the Madhvani Group’s Director of Tourism Operations, who immediately contacted both the army and the police at the highest levels. The lodge also contacted the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA). All of the concerned authorities were very cooperative and responded quickly.
As the coxswain is an experienced swimmer, he managed to swim to the river bank. With the help of Uganda Wildlife Authority staff, the Chobe Lodge team used the two other boats available at the lodge for the night search mission and managed to rescue two passengers – one person at 10:00 pm and another gentleman at 2:00 am in the morning.
Both police and army rescue teams arrived Sunday morning. The search party included Madhvani Group staff with a military helicopter, together with another helicopter rented by the Madhvani Group, as well as two motorized boats, 3 canoes, and experienced divers. After intense search efforts of this remote area, they identified one lady by her life jacket and managed to rescue her at midday on April 10, 2011.
All of those rescued are safe and sound and are back with their families.
It is possible that the 2 people who are still missing are stranded on one of the small islands or on the river banks. The search and rescue exercise continues. The lodge is using a hired helicopter, as well as a plane, for this purpose,and have also hired rafting experts, Nile River Explorers, from Jinja to join the rescue team. UWA staff also have patrols searching the river banks.
Meanwhile, the family members of the missing are waiting at the lodge and have requested that the names of their loved ones not be released.
The Madhvani Group expresses its gratitude to both the army and police teams, as well as the UWA staff, for their prompt reaction and action amidst this unforeseen circumstance.