PESHAWAR: The death toll from a boating accident in a lake in northwest Pakistan over the weekend reached 51, the military said on Tuesday. The wooden boat was carrying children and teachers from a seminary on a picnic.
Police on Sunday said at least 10 students drowned after the large wooden boat they were in capsized in Tanda Dam in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. They said at the time that the vessel was carrying 25 people.
Later, however, officials said the boat was overcrowded and in fact was carrying 57 people, mostly children, and at least 51 had died. Qismat Khan, area police chief for the district of Kohat, said authorities have handed over the victims’ bodies for burial but police were still investigating.
The military said in a statement that divers from the army and local emergency service rescued five survivors.
The boys aged between seven and 14 were all students of a madrassa and had been taken for a day trip to the scenic Tanda Dam lake.
“The water of the dam was freezing due to cold weather that impeded the rescue mission. But today the divers were able to dive deep to recover the remaining bodies,” said Khateer Ahmad, a senior official with Rescue 1122.
The bodies of a teacher and one skipper were also pulled from the water, he added, bringing the death toll to 51.
Mohammad Umar, who sells tea at a picnic site overlooking the popular weekend tourist destination, said dozens of parents and relatives had gathered over the past few days.
“Every time a body was recovered from the scene, they would jump onto the diver to see if it was their son and every time we would hear them screaming in pain and anguish,” he told AFP over the phone on Tuesday.
“I have not witnessed such scenes in my life, it’s something that can’t be explained in words.”
Tanda Dam lake is about five kilometres (3 miles) away from the madrassa - an Islamic school that offers free religious education - in Kohat in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
Pakistan’s army shared images showing divers traversing the lake in rubber dinghies, entering the green waters to pull out the bodies of children.
“I got stuck under the boat,” 11-year-old survivor Mohammad Mustafa told AFP from his hospital bed on Sunday.
“My shawl and sweater weighed me down, so I took them off.”
“The water was extremely cold and my body went numb. I thought I was going to pass out when a man on an inflatable tube saved me.”