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Swiss government extends condolences to families of canyoning victims

The Swiss government on Wednesday extended its condolences to the families, friends and relatives of those who died in a fatal canyoning river adventure near the tourist resort of Interlaken.

This content was published on July 28, 1999 - 11:45

The Swiss government on Wednesday extended its condolences to the families, friends and relatives of those who died in a fatal canyoning river adventure near the tourist resort of Interlaken.

Sports Minister Adolf Ogi expressed the government’s shock about Tuesday’s tragic accident, which marked the worst such incident in the country’s water sports history.

“We mourn those who fell victim to the powers of nature, and we mourn for a group of young people who did not get a chance to see their hopes, dreams and wishes come true in life,” Ogi said.

The tragedy occurred when a party of 45 tourists and eight guides were plunging down waterfalls and rapids on the Saxeten brook, near Interlaken.

At the time, a sudden storm swelled the waters within a matter of seconds into a raging torrent, uprooting trees and other vegetation in its fury.

Police said the victims -- 19 bodies were recovered and two people were still missing feared dead -- came from Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and Switzerland. Six of those rescued were injured, including one critically.

Dozens of policemen and firemen, backed by boats and helicopters, took part in the search operation.

The Swiss authorities have set up an emergency contact number for relatives who fear their family member may be among the victims. The number is:

(International code for Switzerland), then 41 31 634 20 51.
(For calls made in Switzerland) 031 634 20 51.

"It's awful," said Georg Hoedle, one of the managers of the Swiss-based tour organizer, Adventure World, choking back tears at a press conference. "We've been organizing canyoning for six years and until now have only had the occasional broken leg."

The accident was discovered around 6 p.m. (1600 GMT) by a local jogger who saw bodies floating into nearby Lake Brienz.

"I saw huge pieces of wood in the water," said Andreas Haesler. "Then I saw bodies -- one on its stomach, one on its back. They were all wearing life jackets but it was clear they were dead," he told Swiss television.

The mother of one survivor from New Zealand said her son told her he was swept a long way down the river over a series of waterfalls.

The brook flows into a stream which turns into Lake Brienz near the village of Boenigen on the outskirts of Interlaken, a popular tourist town around 60 kilometers (37 miles) southeast of the Swiss capital, Bern.

Local people said they were shocked -- but not surprised -- about the tragedy, saying the party should never have set out in the first place.

"It was clear a storm was coming," resident Albert Balmer told local radio.

It was the worst water sports accident in living memory. In 1993, 12 people were killed in a river rafting adventure in eastern Switzerland.


From staff and wire reports.




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