Seljord boating tragedy killed three

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UPDATED: Tragedy struck the mountain community at Seljord in the heart of Telemark County after a boat carrying six people capsized in the large lake known as Seljordsvatnet, throwing all of them into the chilly water. Two young men were initially determined to have drowned and now the body of a third victim has been found by divers.

One person had still been missing on Friday, even after a massive emergency response to the capsizing on Thursday afternoon and evening. It included three helicopters, teams of divers and scores of others searching the banks of the lake. Divers continued searching through the weekend and found the body of the missing person on Sunday.

She was identified as Gunhild Egenæs, a 53-year-old teacher at a local continuing education program for adults. All six people in the 14-foot open boat were tied to the program, the other five as refugees studying Norwegian as part of introductory courses for new arrivals in Norway.

Students at a local school
Two of the three who initially were missing were found in the water and flown by air ambulance to Norway’s national hospital (Rikshospitalet) in Oslo. One of them, a 20-year-old man, was declared dead Thursday evening and the other, age 19, died shortly thereafter.

Both victims were students taking part in the continuing education program for adults at the nearby Nome og Bø voksenopplæring center. Jan Lillebø, operations leader at the main emergency response unit for Southern Norway, said that five students and one teacher were believed to be on board the small boat designed for recreational purposes. It was not equipped with life vests and officials confirmed on Monday that neither the teacher nor one of the other victims was wearing one.

“Three of those on board managed to save themselves and they were taken to an emergency clinic in Seljord,” Åsmund Sanda of the local police told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). News bureau NTB reported on Sunday that they have since reported that the teacher helped get them ashore and then swam back to try to help the two others still in the water. Then she disappeared under the water as well.

‘A tragic incident’
The rector at the school, Marianne Dahlsen, confirmed the group was on an excursion during the school’s annual autumn holiday period. NTB reported Sunday that it was not organized by the school, but rather had apparently come at the initiative of the teacher who had invited her students on the boat in connection with a visit to her holiday cabin (hytte).  Survivors told police that the open boat was swamped by a high wave that filled it water, and it sank. Divers have since found the sunken boat as well.

“The accident in Seljordsvatnet is a tragic incident,” Dahlsen told NRK. “Our thoughts go to all involved, and their families.”

The boat capsized just offshore between the bank and a small island known as Vesleøy, southeast of the town of Seljord. Around 60 people were involved in the rescue effort that included all available resources from the Telemark Red Cross, air ambulances from Ål, Arendal and Lørenskog and a Sea King rescue helicopter from Rygge. Local officials also set up crisis teams in response to the drownings.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund