Tragic loss of schoolmates

Tragic loss of schoolmates

Two friends drown in sea at Shek O after going for a swim, following a night on the beach

Our sincere condolences to families and friends of those lost in the terrible events of this holiday

A night of beach fun ended in a double tragedy when the body of Chan Yan-shi, 16, was found early yesterday morning.

Yan-shi and his friend Choi Lai-heng, 15, were swept out to sea and drowned when they went swimming on Monday morning off Shek O. The boys and a 16-year-old girl, Tong Yim-kwan, were among six children who spent the night on the beach to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival. After hanging out all night, the trio decided to go for a dip in the sea, despite there being red warning flags and no lifeguards on duty.

Yim-kwan was rescued by beachgoers, and a search started for the two boys. Eight hours later, the search and rescue teams found Lai-heng's body. The search for Yan-shi continued while anxious family members and friends waited.

All the students were from CNEC Lau Wing Sang Secondary School in Chai Wan. Schoolmates left messages on Weibo as they waited for news. "It has been six hours," one wrote, "but I still believe in a miracle."

"God bless the families of the two schoolmates," said a former student from the school.

Chan Kai-yin, acting assistant divisional officer of the Fire Services Department, said divers carried out 10 searches before they found Lai-heng's body. His body was discovered at 4pm on Monday, floating five metres underwater near a raft. He was later declared dead.

"The visibility of the water is very low - just two metres. The water current was rapid. The [body was caught in] the current. So the operation was relatively difficult," Chan said.

The search for Yan-shi was stopped at 8pm on Monday and resumed early yesterday. Yan-shi's body was found 50 metres off Shek O Beach at about 7.30am.

Cheng Tak-foo, the school's principal, said the fifth-formers were good students. "I am very shocked and sad. I have been seeing them grow since they were in Form One," he said.

Alex Kwok Siu-kit, head of the city's Lifeguards' Union, said the children had not slept the night before, so they were physically unfit to go swimming.

Kwok urged the Leisure and Cultural Services Department to review beach opening hours. He suggested they should open at 7am or 7.30am instead of the usual 9am, so lifeguards could be there when swimmers arrived.

The department sets early opening times at the city's beaches only on summer weekends, at 8am.

"If the opening hours had been extended, those kids could have been rescued in time," Kwok said.

Waves on Shek O beach get higher as winter approaches. This makes the beach unsuitable for amateur swimmers, he said.

Despite the tragedy, several other swimmers braved the waves. At least five more people, one of whom was sent to hospital, had to be rescued by lifeguards at Shek O on Monday.

Dozens die in boat crash

By Joyce Ng, Stuart Lau, Danny Mok and Ada Lee

At least 36 people died after two ferries collided off Lamma Island on Monday night.

The government said that 28 people were confirmed dead at the scene. Eight other people were later declared dead upon arrival in hospital.

The accident happened at 8.23pm. A vessel owned by Hongkong Electric was heading to Central with staff and their families to watch the National Day fireworks display when it was hit by a passenger ferry from Central.

The vessel was half sunk in the water with its bow pointing up at an angle of 90 degrees. More than 100 passengers were thrown overboard.

A woman identified as Mrs Lau was on the boat with her husband and two children, a boy aged 10 and a girl aged seven. She said she saw her children fall into the water.

"I screamed, telling my son to hold on to the railing of the boat but he could not and fell into the water. I have lost them," she said.

Rescuers pulled 123 people out of the water dead or alive, said a government official.

Some of those rescued were taken to Queen Mary, Ruttonjee, Queen Elizabeth, and Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern hospitals for treatment. Some were unconscious.

A paramedic at Queen Mary Hospital said some of the survivors were suffering from hypothermia. Four had to be revived medically.

Yuen Sui-see, Hong Kong Electric's director of operations, blamed the ferry for the tragedy.

"The ferry rammed the side of our boat. They didn't bother and just left," he said.

A spokeswoman for Hong Kong and Kowloon Ferry said the ferry was arriving at Lamma from Central. She said no one on the ferry fell into the sea, but a few passengers later sought treatment.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying arrived at the South Horizons pier at about 10.45pm on Monday.

"Relevant government departments are making all-out efforts to rescue people who fell into the sea after the collision," he said.

"Senior officials and I will closely monitor the situation. We will do whatever we can. We must thoroughly investigate the cause of the incident."

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