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6 dead, 31 missing after tourist boat sinks in Colombia

Last Updated Jun 26, 2017 at 6:01 am EDT

Onlookers watch rescue efforts after the tourist boat Almirante sank in the Reservoir of Penol in Guatape municipality in Antioquia on June 25, 2017. AFP PHOTO/Joaquin Sarimiento

President Juan Manuel Santos arrived at the Guatape reservoir in Colombia where a tourist boat capsized and said that 122 people were either rescued or found their way to shore. He said that six people had died and another 31 were missing.

Rescuers including firefighters from nearby cities and air force pilots were searching for survivors at the reservoir near Medellin where the El Almirante sank with about 160 passengers on board. A flotilla of recreational boats and jet skis rushed to the scene, pulling people from the boat as it went down and avoiding an even deadlier tragedy.

“Nobody really knows what happened,” said Santos, adding that naval officials were brought in to carry out an investigation.

Earlier, Margarita Moncada, the head of the disaster response agency in Antioquia state, had said that according to a preliminary nine people had been killed and around 28 were missing. The discrepancies in the number of fatalities could not be immediately reconciled.

Moncada said that 99 people were rescued immediately and another 40 managed to find shore on their own and were in good health.

A rescue operation was underway in the Guatape reservoir where the accident took place on Sunday. Medellin’s mayor said firefighters and scuba divers were heading to the town.

“The most important thing right now is to save lives,” said Mayor Federico Gutierrez.

Dramatic videos circulating on social media show the ferry, called El Almirante, rocking back and forth as people crawled down from a third-floor roof as the ship began sinking.

It’s unclear what caused the boat to sink but survivors told local media that it appeared to be overloaded and none of the passengers on board were wearing life vests.

The reservoir surrounding the soaring rocky outcrop of El Penol is a popular weekend destination a little more than an hour from Medellin. It was especially busy Sunday as Colombians celebrated a long holiday weekend.