Five Japan divers rescued after days missing off Bali

Five Japanese scuba divers were rescued Monday after being found clinging to a coral reef in rough waters off the Indonesian resort island of Bali three days after they went missing, officials said.

Fishermen spotted the divers, among seven women who went missing Friday, some 20 kilometres (12 miles) from where they set off for a diving expedition but could not rescue them because the waves were too high.

They alerted authorities and the first to be rescued was Saori Furukawa, who was picked up by a helicopter, Bali search and rescue chief Didi Hamzar said.

"She seemed in quite good health and even helped me search for the others after she was rescued," said helicopter pilot Dian Bashari.

They were all in the same area called Manta Point, off the west coast of Nusa Penida island, southeast of Bali, although Furukawa was separated from the others by several hundred metres (yards).

The helicopter could not get close enough to pick up the other four, meaning two rescuers had to leap into the water to deliver supplies of food to them, Hamzar said.

A boat was dispatched to pick them up and they were brought to Semawang beach in southern Bali before being taken to hospital by ambulance, an AFP reporter at the scene said.

The reporter saw some of the women being taken into a hospital in the Balinese capital Denpasar wearing oxygen masks. Furukawa suffered only minor injuries but it was not clear how seriously hurt the others were.

They had set off on a dive expedition Friday from the Mangrove area of Nusa Lembongan, an island next to Nusa Penida. The shortest route to where they ended up was around 20 kilometres.

Officials said they had not yet identified the other four women rescued. They had no news of the other two missing divers.

A search involving about 100 people has been under way since the divers' disappearance, with rescue efforts hampered by heavy rain and strong winds earlier Monday.

- Experienced scuba divers -

One of the divers, Shoko Takahashi, and her husband had set up the operator known as Yellow Scuba that took the divers out on the trip, said Japanese consular official Kenichi Takeyama.

Takeyama said Yellow Scuba had provided boats and staff for the search.

The women were experienced scuba divers who had logged more than 50 dives each.

The dive boat's skipper said he was following the divers for some 20 minutes before a sudden downpour made the water cloudy, according to Japan's Asahi Shimbun newspaper.

He moved his 10-metre-long boat to a point some hundreds of metres away where the divers were expected to resurface at an agreed time, the report said.

When they failed to resurface, the skipper said he searched for them for an hour before reporting the incident.

But Hamzar told reporters on Sunday he had received information that the skipper had run out of fuel at some point, and had to refuel before heading to the agreed meeting spot.

John Chapman, a Briton who runs the World Diving Lembongan operation on the island where the women went missing, said the heavy rain and choppy sea could have been a factor in their disappearance.

He said a sudden downpour would have made some safety procedures, such as meeting at a brightly marked buoy, difficult because of poor visibility.

To assist rescue officials, Chapman on Sunday conducted a dive to simulate the group's, saying the current was "quite gentle" but became much rougher when he surfaced.

Japan's Kyodo news agency said the missing women were named by police and rescue authorities as: Ritsuko Miyata, 59, Emi Yamamoto, 33, Nahomi Tomita, 28, Aya Morizono, 27, Atsumi Yoshinobe, 29, Shoko Takahashi, 29, as well as Furukawa.

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