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Volcano erupts and seven tourists vanish into sea off Bali

February 17, 2014 Destination ASEAN, Headline News No Comments Email Email

egtmedia59Seven tourists on an all-female scuba diving expedition vanished into the ocean off Bali, feared lost, as a vast plume of volcanic ash spread across nearby Java at the weekend and disrupted hundreds of flights.

In a strange and extraordinary event, the women, members of experienced diving group, all disappeared into the sea together near Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida, islands close to Bali’s south-east coast.

Police said the seven women – five tourists and two instructors – left Bali on Friday morning after renting a boat from the beach town of Sanur.

The Guardian reported Indonesian rescuers had recovered one body but that was later denied. The divers, all Japanese, were said to be highly experienced, having each completed at least 50 dive trips previously. The two instructors were based locally and knew the area. Local police say the group began an afternoon dive in Nusa Penida’s Crystal Bay mangrove area in rough seas and went down together. They never surfaced and have vanished without trace.

In August 2012, police closed Crystal Bay beach on Nusa Penida after the deaths of two tourists in separate incidents within days of each other.

A local dive operator then warned of “powerful and wild undercurrents” on Nusa Penida Island, which he compared to a washing machine surging beneath the sea. (For our story on that in 2012, see: Bali beach closed after tourists die in ‘washing machine’ current)

The disturbing disappearance of the seven women divers was reported at the weekend as a volcanic ash plume drifted across the Indonesian island of Java, which begins 3.2 km west of Bali across the Bali Strait.

The plume, from Javanese volcano Mt Kelud, rose 17 kilometres into the air, sending ash blanketing villages up to 500 kilometres away, closing airports and causing havoc to air schedules. Kelud is the second volcano in Indonesia to have erupted unexpectedly recently – Mt Sinabung in North Sumatra erupted  earlier this month and killed 17 people.

Indonesian authorities say the Kelud eruption has killed three people and affected about 200,000 residents.

Airports at Surabaya, Bandung, Yogyakarta, Solo, Malang, Semarang and the major oil refinery town of Cilacap closed after the eruption, with Virgin, Qantas and Jetstar cancelling flights to Bali, Jakarta Thailand and Singapore on St Valentine’s Day.

Flight schedules were returning to normal on Sunday.

Surabaya airport, Bandung airport and the smaller airports of Malang in East Java and Cilacap in Central Java are reported to have reopened. An Indonesian bulletin says  Yogyakarta’s airport is expected to reopen on Tuesday, 18 February, while Solo’s airport should be operational today, Monday 17 February. Reopening Semarang was still under consideration yesterday.

Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta International Airport and Halim Airport remained operational throughout the eruption, as did other airports throughout Indonesia, although more than 300 flights were cancelled.

Written by Peter Needham

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