By Lehaz Ali
Forty-nine children died when their overloaded boat capsized in northwest Pakistan, police said Tuesday after divers spent three days dragging bodies from freezing waters.
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 on Sunday.
“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.
Muhammad 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.
Police spokesperson Fazal Naeem issued the new death toll on Tuesday after the end of the rescue mission. It was confirmed by the military’s media wing.
“The boat was overloaded; its capacity was around 20 to 25 persons,” Naeem told AFP.
He added that five people were rescued including four students and one teacher.
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 Muhammad 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.”
Drownings are common in Pakistan, when aged and overloaded vessels lose their stability and pitch passengers into the water.
On the same day, at least 41 people were confirmed dead after their bus crashed into a ravine in southwestern Balochistan province.
In July last year, at least 18 women drowned after an overloaded boat carrying about 100 members of the same family capsized during a marriage procession between two villages.