THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
BALI, Indonesia–While drifting in stormy seas off the island of Bali, Saori Furukawa and six other lost Japanese female divers were forced to quench their thirst with a floating coconut while hoping for rescue.
The 37-year-old diving instructor said she reached a nearby island after becoming separated from the others and gathered plastic foam and other debris scattered along the beach to put on top of her to try to stay warm.
Furukawa was rescued on Feb. 17, some 75 hours after she and the others went missing while diving off Lembongan Island three days earlier following heavy rains in the area.
Local volunteers who were participating in the search for the missing women spotted Furukawa lying on a beach of Penida Island.
“I have no words to describe my deep appreciation to these people for their concerns and their help,” she said.
Furukawa, who works for Yellow Scuba, a diving shop in Bali, gave details about her ordeal in writing in response to questions posed by Japanese news outlets via the Japanese consulate-general in Denpasar, Bali.
Furukawa said there was nothing unusual about the conditions on the afternoon of Feb. 14 when the group was on their diving excursion.
The group included another Yellow Scuba instructor. The five others had traveled from Japan to go diving in the waters off Bali.
“The health of all the members of our group appeared to be fine,” she wrote. “The weather was good. So were the sea conditions.”
That was until the group surfaced after their last round of diving.
“The weather had changed drastically. Heavy winds were creating rough seas. The visibility was very limited due to torrential rain,” she explained.
Furukawa used a whistle in an attempt to draw attention to the group after they heard the sound of a boat engine nearby. Eventually though, they lost sight of the boat as the tidal current grew more violent.
“As if in a washing machine, the surface of the sea began whirling about,” Furukawa said. “We held hands, scuba tanks or buoyancy vests to hold onto each other, all the while spinning about.”
She said they continued drifting farther away even after managing to escape the swirling waters.
Furukawa said they were able to keep track of their approximate location by observing the shapes of the islands during the day and, after dark, by using their compasses, observing lights on the Islands and noting which direction the airplanes overhead were flying.
They made it a top priority not to make unnecessary moves to conserve their strength. They held hands and tied each other together using rope.
The following morning, on Feb. 15, they spotted a tugboat when they were drifting off Penida Island.
Furukawa swam toward the boat in order to get help. But she could not reach it and ended up becoming separated from the other women due to the strong currents.
She said she believed the others remained together at that point and were still in the vicinity where she left them.
In the evening, she managed to make it to a rocky stretch of Penida Island.
“I was desperate to find a way to a nearby village to ask for help,” she said. “But with the rough seas, swelling waves and strong currents before me and a sheer cliff behind me, I could not move from where I was with the little strength I had left.”
She relieved her thirst by harvesting rainwater and sipping drops of water on dead leaves. She also sought shelter under a rock to protect her from the rain.
On Feb. 17, Furukawa, unable to move, was discovered on the beach by employees of other diving and boat shops that had joined the search effort. She said she came to when they shouted for her.
Furukawa was later airlifted by a helicopter to Bali.
A doctor at the hospital where Furukawa was admitted said Feb. 18 she had not eaten for three days and was suffering from many mosquito bites.
Local police said the body of a woman discovered on Feb. 18 in an inlet off Serangan Island, just across from Bali, had been identified as 59-year-old Ritsuko Miyata.
Shoko Takahashi, 35, the other diving instructor working for Yellow Scuba, is still missing.
The four other divers–Nahomi Tomita, 28, Aya Morizono, 27, Emi Yamamoto, 33, and Atsumi Yoshidome, 29–were found on Feb. 17 clinging to a rock wall 800 meters northwest of where Furukawa was discovered.
They were taken to a separate hospital in Denpasar where they were treated for light sunburn to their faces, hands and legs.
A doctor who treated them said at a news conference on Feb. 18 that their conditions were stable, and that they will be released in the next few days.
(This article was compiled from reports by Makoto Igarashi, Hiroshi Nakano and Yoshikazu Hirai in Denpasar, and Tadao Onaga and Etsushi Tsuru in Sanur.)