CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines – What was supposed to be an adventure of a lifetime for Aiza Balbin, a first-time visitor to Cagayan de Oro (CDO), turned into tragedy when she went white water rafting at the city's world-famous river on Friday, June 13.
The raft of Balbin and friends Marjorie Paredes and Patrick Agus capsized near a boulder at around 1:45 pm on Friday, June 13, throwing the passengers into the rushing waters a kilometer from the route’s end point.
Paredes, Agus, and another tourist from Albay were able to swim to safety but Balbin was nowhere to be found.
Raft operator Kagay White Water Rafting (KWWR) launched a search and rescue operation about 20 minutes after the raft capsized, according to tour owner Chesom Facture. The Philippine Red Cross local team also responded to the accident.
Mark Joffe, head of the International Rafting Federation, was also on-site with Factura as they were surveying the route for an international rafting race in August this year.
Joffe said the raft was pushed against a boulder because of the strong current. "It capsized and Balbin was on the left side of the boat, throwing her off under the current."
He added that the boulder has a portion cut by the river current (called an undercut). “It could be 14 to 20 feet deep and this creates a trap for anything that goes underneath the under current."
Local government response
CDO Mayor Oscar Moreno said in a press conference that torrential rains have made the search and rescue operations more difficult.
“We are searching for answers. What should we do? What resources can we tap? Who do we talk to? Who are the experts in such accidents?” Moreno said.
Joffe, an expert in river rescue, said an undercut accident is very difficult to respond to. "The rafters, river guides, and search and rescue teams have been doing the best they could. I have seen mounted rescues much worst outside the Philippines."
Joffe added that the rafting operator faced responsibility and provided all the responders need.
Joffe said that in an incident such as this, operations should already be shifted from search and rescue to body recovery. “When the body is underwater, the shift should be as fast as 5 minutes. You will drown in 5 minutes,” he added.
He added that the body could still be underwater. Technical divers were unable to get to the body due to the dangerous currents. The parents of Balbin are expected to arrive in the city soon.
Moreno has already asked local rafting operators to assure the public that the rafting industry in the city is safe and is following all required standards.
He added that the city government will look into the city ordinance on the rafting industry, and will find ways to make the city’s premier adventure destination as safe as possible.
This is the first time that such accident happened since the city’s commercial rafting operations started in 1995. The rafting adventure in the city serves almost 800 tourists daily on weekends and up to 500 tourists on week days. – Rappler.com