FOUR STUDENTS DROWN IN SAIPAN

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SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Mar 26) – Four students drowned in the waters off Saipan’s Forbidden Island on Friday afternoon, while a companion was brought to the Commonwealth Health Center where he remains under observation.

The bodies of three of the fatalities — Yang Mira, Ku Jung Whan and Kim Jin Ah — were found by rescuers and were declared dead on arrival at CHC.

The victims were, 18, 20 and 24 years old.

Another victim, Ha Jun, 18, is now in good condition, but is still under observation at CHC. He sustained minor scratches and lacerations to the body. He is the son of the owner of the Dae Jang Kum Restaurant in Susupe.

The body of the fifth victim, 19-year-old Suh Sang Won, missing on Friday, was found on the following day.

Kim Jin Ah was a student at Mt. Carmel School while the rest of the victims were students of Northern Marianas College.

Suh Sang Won’s parents arrived on Saipan early Saturday morning.

They left South Korea on Friday night after they were informed by the Korean Association here that their son was missing.

The parents were on Forbidden Island on Saturday while personnel of the Department of Public Safety’s Boating Safety Section, the Commonwealth Ports Authority’s Harbor Patrol DPS-Fire, Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Navy conducted the search and rescue operation.

Members of the Korean Catholic Church headed by Fr. Anthony Kye went to Forbidden Island on Saturday afternoon and offered prayers for the missing student.

DPS spokeswoman Lei Ogumoro in a phone interview yesterday said Suh Sang Won’s body had been found and more details will be released today.

The parents of the other fatalities have arrived on Saipan on Saturday. They flew in from Indonesia and South Korea.

The five victims were with a group of 17 students who went to Forbidden Island on Friday morning to hike and have a picnic.

A preliminary investigation by DPS indicated that at 2:39 p.m., an incident involving distressed swimmers on Forbidden Island was reported to the police.

The caller stated that several people had been washed out to sea on the south side of Forbidden Island.

The students had been hiking on the southern side of the island just by the reef line when a big wave hit them, carrying several individuals into the open sea.

Three males and two females were carried out to sea while the rest of the students sustained minor scratches.

DPS Boating Safety Section immediately launched a rescue operation and a U.S. Navy chopper conducted an aerial search.

During the rescue operation on Friday, two males and two females were pulled from the water. Three of them were found to be unconscious, with no pulse and no breathing.

The other male, Ha Jun, was conscious.

All four victims were transported to the Smiling Cove Marina and taken to the Commonwealth Health Center.

The three unconscious students were pronounced dead at 6:41 p.m. on Friday due to drowning.

Ha Jun was treated and is now in stable condition.

The search and rescue operation was continued for Suh Sang Won, whose body was finally found on Saturday.

Acting Gov. Timothy P. Villagomez, in a text message, said the entire community is grieving for the loss of the four students.

He said he was at the hospital on Friday when the bodies were brought in.

"This is a very sad day for all of us and we mourn with the families (of the fatalities)," he said.

In an interview yesterday, Press Secretary Charles P. Reyes Jr. said the administration will find out what happened to the students.

"We need to find out exactly the cause and what really happened. From that, we will consider what the best action is, including changing policies, because we’re very keen on public safety," Reyes said.

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