Seven scuba divers missing off Lembongan Island, Bali

Tuesday update: Five have been found alive, clinging to a reef 20 kilometers away (probably the uninhabited backside of Nusa Penida, I would guess). News report


Saturday I was frolicking on an east side Sanur reef when out the channel charged seven speedboats, with a Search and Rescue helicopter buzzing overhead.

I thought, somebody’s been reported missing at sea.

It turns out to be not just one, but seven scuba divers had disappeared off Lembongan the previous afternoon, apparently while diving the Mangrove dive spot. Five Japanese female divers, and 2 female guide divers, all experienced.

nusa lembongan missing dive

(Red — where the divers went missing, as far as I can determine from the news reports. Blue circle is Shipwrecks surf break.)

Over the years, a number of divers have died in the the treacherous currents around Lembongan and Penida, some of them never found. On Friday afternoon, when these went missing on their third and final dive (having never surfaced according to the dive boat crew), the tidal current would have been very strong. Nearly a full moon spring tide, dropping fast in the afternoon.

A friend of mine disappeared when diving at the spot marked in blue. He was never found. The interesting thing is that some time later, I heard that an experienced free-diver, training for a world spearfishing competition, had been spearfishing that same spot the day before. He told of unexpectedly being caught in an underwater whirlpool that swirled out of nowhere to suck him down. He barely managed to make it to the surface. Terrifying, he said.

Dive operators for the Lembongan area are well aware of the dangers of spring tide currents. The mangrove dive spot where the divers went missing is (according to my google research) supposed to be a safer alternative when the current is running. But apparently not. The ocean is unpredictable. And to the Balinese, there are some places that are simply angker, spiritually charged and dangerous. You enter at your own risk.

Still, there is today. Let’s hope and pray the search and rescue teams will find the divers. There have been remarkable stories of survival, of divers drifting all the way to Bali, and in one case a diver who went missing off Lembongan rescued several miles of Grajagan headland in east Java.

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