KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysian authorities rescued a Norwegian dive instructor and were searching Thursday for three other Europeans, including two teenagers, who disappeared while diving off a southern island.
Kristine Grodem, a 35-year-old registered diving instructor, was rescued by a tugboat early Thursday about 22 nautical miles (40 kilometers) from the dive site and was airlifted to a hospital, according to Johor state maritime authorities.
The missing divers are Alexia Alexandra Molina, 18, of France; Adrian Peter Chesters, 46, of Britain; and his Dutch son, Nathen Renze Chesters, 14.
They were diving together Wednesday afternoon in water about 15 meters (50 feet) deep at an island off the town of Mersing in southern Johor state.
First Admiral Nurul Hizam Zakaria, Johor director of the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency, said Grodem was found safe with full diving gear and was in stable condition without any serious injuries.
He said she was providing dive training for the other three, who were seeking to obtain advanced diving licenses, and that a report was made after the group did not surface about an hour after their dive.
The agency began a search Wednesday afternoon before suspending it for the night due to poor visibility. The search resumed early Thursday with two planes, 18 boats and about 90 personnel, including rescue divers. The operation was halted again for the night and is set to resume early Friday.
District police chief Cyril Edward Nuing said Grodem told investigators that the group surfaced after about 40 minutes and began a second dive. He said they surfaced again soon because of rough water conditions, and Grodem tried to get the boat skipper’s attention but couldn’t be heard as they drifted away. She was then separated from the others due to the strong current, she said.
“Based on her account, the three others managed to surface. With their equipment, their full gear and their experience, we believe there is a strong chance of finding them alive,” he said.
Johor police chief Kamarul Zaman Mamat said the boat skipper tested positive for drugs and has been detained for further investigation.
“We will investigate in terms of their diving equipment, the dive center and so on. A forensic team will be arriving. If there is misconduct and so on, we will investigate as well,” he was quoted as saying by the national Bernama news agency.
Johor Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar ordered a suspension of all diving activities off Mersing pending an investigation into the incident. There are five islands off the town that are popular dive spots for local residents and tourists.
“We cannot allow diving to continue if safety measures are compromised,” he said in a statement. Diving rules and regulations must also be reviewed and made public before the sport is allowed to resume, he said.
Malaysia’s borders reopened to foreigners on April 1 after being closed for more than two years during the COVID-19 pandemic. The immigration department said more than 55,000 foreigners entered Malaysia in the first four days after the reopening.