Another tragedy at Forbidden

Korean tourist missing after being swept by waves

A U.S. Navy helicopter conducts an aerial search at Forbidden Island in Kagman, where a 25-year-old Korean male tourist was swept by big waves and could not be found since Friday afternoon. (DFEMS)

Search and rescue teams backed by a U.S. Navy helicopter failed to locate yesterday a 25-year-old male Korean tourist who was swept by a wave at Forbidden Island in Kagman as he was swimming with three companions Friday afternoon.

The incident happened after another Korean tourist, a woman, drowned at Forbidden Island last Jan. 13, while her husband was swept to the open ocean and could not be found.

Forbidden Island is an isolated rock formation at the northeastern tip of Laulau Bay. Many people have died in the area due to drowning in the past few years. Most of the victims were never recovered.

Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services spokesman Derek Gersonde said DFEMS received the 911 call about a missing person on Friday at 3:20pm.

Gersonde said the tourist was pulled by waves out to open water.

The tourist was with three other companions. The victim was last seen swimming with one of his companions when a wave pulled him to open water.

Department of Public Safety and Commonwealth Ports Authority boats searched in the water, in coordination with the U.S. Coast Guard, while DFEMS Search and Rescue Unit combed the cliffline and shoreline toward Laulau Bay. A Navy helicopter aided the team over the weekend.

DPS spokesman Jacqueline Rae Shepard said that responding police officers spoke with a witness at the scene Friday, who disclosed that he, along with three other friends, had gone down to the beach to take pictures.

Shepard said the victim left the shore to take pictures on the rocks leading to the island, when a large wave came in and knocked him down.

Witnesses said they did not immediately see that the victim was in danger until a second wave came and took him further out.

The victim was able to hold on to a rock, but his friends failed to reach him before a third wave pulled him under and out of sight.

The DPS Boating Safety launched its Impact and Jet boat at 3:42pm and began sweeping searches at the scene and along the coast.

At 5:39pm, the U.S. Coast Guard joined the search and launched a helicopter for an aerial search.

The search was called off at 6pm on Friday and resumed on Saturday and yesterday. The victim was not found. It is not clear if the search will resume today, Monday.

The CNMI Emergency Operations Center State Warning Point had issued a high surf advisory last Feb. 21, warning of the risk of rip currents along north facing reefs.

The advisory warned the public to avoid venturing near reefs and exposed beaches, especially those facing north, s rip currents would be life-threatening.

“If you become caught in a rip current, remain calm and swim parallel to shore and back toward the beach when possible. Do not attempt to swim directly against a rip current,” the advisory stated.

The 34-year-old Korean man who went missing after swimming with his wife in the waters off Forbidden Island last Jan. 13 was also not found.

The body of the Korean man’s wife was found that day at around 1:32pm near the Laolao Bay Golf & Resort clubhouse cliffline. She was taken to the hospital, but was pronounced dead by a doctor at 2:40pm that same day.

Police said a witness who reported the incident said the tourist couple went underwater and failed to resurface.

On Jan. 2, 2015, a 6-year-old girl reportedly drowned, while a 16-year-old student also died when he jumped into the water in an attempt to rescue the girl and her sister after they and three others encountered rough waters and waves inside a cave at Forbidden Island.

That 2015 incident happened as the death of four Korean students who drowned at the same cave in March 2007 was still fresh in the minds of the families and people of the island.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a veteran journalist who has covered all news beats in the CNMI. Born in Lilo-an, Cebu City in the Philippines, De la Torre graduated from the University of Santo Tomas with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He is a recipient of many commendations and awards, including the CNMI Judiciary’s prestigious Justice Award for his over 10 years of reporting on the judiciary’s proceedings and decisions. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@saipantribune.com

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