Report: Survivors yell for help in China boat sinking

By IAN MADER
Associated Press

BEIJING (AP) — Rescuers pulled out one trapped survivor and heard others yell for help Tuesday from inside a capsized cruise ship on China’s Yangtze River after it went down overnight in a storm with 458 people aboard, most of them elderly, state broadcaster CCTV said.

At least other 12 people are known to have survived, some of them by swimming ashore, and five people were confirmed dead in the accident late Monday during a cruise from Nanjing to the southwestern city of Chongqing, the broadcaster said.

Search teams heard people calling out from within the partially submerged ship when they climbed aboard the upside-down hull, CCTV reported more than 12 hours after the ship went down in Hubei Province about 9:38 p.m. Monday during windy weather.

The overturned ship drifted about 3 kilometers (almost 2 miles) downstream before coming to rest close to the river shore, where choppy waters were hindering the rescue.

Footage from the broadcaster showed rescuers in orange life vests climbing on the upside-down hull, with one of them lying down tapping a hammer and listening for a response, then gesturing downward.

Divers later pulled out one survivor, CCTV said, bringing the total of number of people to have reached safety to 13. It said five people were confirmed dead.

The fact that the capsized ship drifted downstream was a good sign for rescuers because it meant there was enough air inside to give it buoyancy, and could mean there are enough air pockets for survivors to breathe, said Chi-Mo Park, a professor of naval architecture and ocean engineering at South Korea’s Ulsan University.

“It all depends how much space there is inside the vessel,” Park said.

The official Xinhua News Agency quoted the captain and chief engineer, who were both rescued, as saying the ship sank quickly after being caught in a cyclone. The Communist Party-run People’s Daily said the ship sank within two minutes. CCTV said the two men were under police custody.

CCTV said the four-level ship had been carrying 406 Chinese passengers, five travel agency employees and 47 crew members. The broadcaster said most of the passengers were 50 to 80 years of age.

The ship sank in the Damazhou waterway section, where the river is 15 meters (about 50 feet) deep, and drifted about three kilometers (almost 2 miles). The Yangtze is the world’s third-longest river and sometimes floods during the summer monsoon season.

Several rescue ships were searching the waters, and divers had been deployed. The broadcaster said rescue personnel were trying to determine whether they could right the sunken ship.

The channel said seven of the survivors swam to shore and alerted authorities to the sinking.

More than 50 boats and 3,000 people were involved in search efforts.

The Eastern Star measured 251 feet long (76.5 meters) and 36 feet wide (11 meters) and was capable of carrying a maximum of 534 people, CCTV reported. It is owned by the Chongqing Eastern Shipping Corp., which focuses on tourism routes in the popular Three Gorges river canyon region. The company could not be reached for comment.

CCTV reported that 6 inches (150 millimeters) of rain had fallen in the region over the past 24 hours. Local media reported winds reached 80 mph (130 kph) during the accident.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is reported to be traveling to the accident site. Xinhua reported that President Xi Jinping had ordered a work team of the State Council, the country’s Cabinet, to rush to the site to guide the rescue work.

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