As hopes fade of rescuing those still missing from Wednesday’s deadly sightseeing boat collision in Budapest, Hungary’s Foreign Minister told reporters Friday that officials were preparing to lift the wreck out of the water.
Thirty-five people – including 33 South Koreans – were on board the tourist boat in the Hungarian capital when it collided with a larger vessel, according to the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Seven people have been confirmed dead, while 21 are still missing. Seven others were rescued from the river and taken to hospital.
Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto told reporters during a joint press conference with his South Korean counterpart, Kang Kyung-wha, that his government’s objective was to “recover and surface the wreck as soon as possible to be able to account for all the possible missing persons stuck in the wreckage.”
He added that “every single condition is working against the success of our work; those participating in the search and rescue efforts are having to deal with extraordinary circumstances.”
Szijjarto told reporters that divers had already attempted several dives down to the vessel but zero visibility made it “impossible to get near the wreck.”
He added that the search area had been extended to the “entire stretch” of the River Danube and that Hungary was working with Serbian authorities downstream.
The collision occurred in the city center and according to Hungarian police the boat, called The Mermaid, flipped and sank in just seven seconds.
Seven South Korean tourists died in the accident, of whom two have been identified, authorities said Thursday. None were wearing life jackets. Of the seven people rescued from the water, six have been discharged from hospital. One person remains in hospital with several broken ribs, a doctor from the emergency room confirmed to CNN.
Suspected human error
Budapest police said in a statement on Thursday that the captain of the larger vessel involved in the collision had been detained. The 64-year-old Ukrainian citizen, named only as Mr. Yuriy, was initially questioned based on evidence found by police investigating the accident.
Szijjarto said Friday that human error is suspected to be the cause of the crash, based on the evidence collected so far. He added that the detained captain “contested his culpability, however did not contest the custody.”
Lee Sang-moo, the managing director of Very Good Tour – the South Korean tour company that arranged the river cruise – said at a press conference in Seoul Thursday that the group was on day five of a nine-day tour of Croatia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Austria and Germany.
Most of the tourists were middle aged, Lee added, with the oldest in their 70s and the youngest born in 2013.
“I deeply apologize to the parties affected by the accident, families of victims and the people who are suffering after hearing the news this morning,” Lee said. “I understand that the boat took every precaution.”
Mihaly Toth, a spokesman for boating company Panorama Deck, which operated the capsized boat, said the company could not confirm why it sank.
“It was just an average day and this was a regular trip. We carry out thousands of tourist boat trips every day, there were no signs that something like this could happen,” Toth said.
CNN’s Nada Bashir contributed to this story.