GUATAPE, Colombia – A weekend outing of the Villegas family ended in tragedy on Sunday when the four-deck vessel El Almirante capsized in the Guatape reservoir only minutes after setting off, in the northeastern department of Antioquia, leaving at least six dead and about 31 missing.
“We were taking photos, seeing that it was a very beautiful day when from one moment to another we felt a very strong rumble,” Jose Gilberto Villegas, survivor of the tragic incident, told EFE, adding “the left part was broken and it was when the ship began to sink towards the left side.”
According to Villegas, passengers tried to move to the right side in order to stabilize the ship, but too much water had rushed inside, dragging the vessel down.
“Everyone shouted and asked for help, and people helped each other, thank God,” said Villegas, who was part of a family of 23 members, including his wife and their daughters; 12 years old and 16 months old, whom he managed to save.
Two of his relatives; a 55-year-old uncle and a 33-year-old cousin, were among the missing passengers.
“We are sad... we have no feelings to express,” Villegas said, referring to his missing relatives.
He added that they paid 11,000 pesos (about $3.60) per person to board the ship and take a Sunday tour around the reservoir, part of a long weekend as Monday is a holiday in Colombia.
Villegas explained that when they boarded El Almirante they received no instruction of what to do in case of emergency and no life vests were provided.
“I got on with a foreigner. I do not know where he is (now) and I ask God to protect him,” he said.
According to Villegas, once El Almirante began to shake, he tried to leave with his wife and daughters while asking other tourist boats nearby which quickly approached the ship as it completely sank within minutes.
“My daughters cried and I shouted ‘save my daughters, save my daughters,’” he said, adding that they were on the highest dock because it had a better view during the ride.
As far as he remembered, “the first floor was where most people were. People were sitting down drinking their beer, there were music and everything.”
Once rescued, Villegas and his family were transferred to a shelter provided by Guatape authorities, who, he said, gave him and his family “clothes, food and drinks.”