Government of the Federated States of Micronesia

Nation mourns Palauan atheletes' tragic death in Pohnpei

PALIKIR, Pohnpei (FSM Information Service): August 7, 2002 - The flag of the Federated States of Micronesia and the Pohnpei State flag have been ordered half-mast following the tragic death of three members of Palau's athletic team on August 4, 2002.

The victims were among the 20 some Palauan athletes and trainers on an afternoon excursion to the Twin Falls or the Liduduhniap Waterfalls in Nett Municipality, to continue their celebration of victory as the winners of the most medals in the recently completed 5th Micronesian Games.

At around 3 pm in the afternoon, the euphoria was interrupted by a sudden downpour of heavy rain followed almost simultaneously by a flashflood, feared and known by the locals as "Luwair," meaning the sneaky one."

The violent rush of water hit the group at the top of the first fall and dropped six people into the swirling pool of second fall. The group at the bottom had time to scramble to safety and with the assistance of the fast reacting residents, who had earlier forewarned the athletes of a flashflood, managed to rescue three out of the pool while the other three were swept away.

The families along the river mobilized a search and rescue team, later joined by the State Department of Public Safety to recover two of the victims down-river by that evening. The other body was recovered near the falls the next morning, Monday- August 5.

On Monday afternoon, officials from Palau arrived to participate in the rescue efforts and accompany the remains back to Palau. The officials are: Minister of State - Temmy Schmull, the Minister of Cultural Affairs and President of Palau National Olympic Committee - Alexander Merep was recently in Pohnpei for the Micronesian Games and Senator Mlib Tmetuchl, was also recently in Pohnpei as the Chef de Mission for the Palau Delegation to the 5th Micronesian Games.

They were met at the airport by State and National officials and several members of the Palau athletic team.

Lieutenant Governor Jack E. Yakana held a short briefing later that afternoon at his office to update the officials on the progress of the search and rescue. The Lieutenant Governor shared the people of Pohnpei and the State's deepest regret over the accident and expressed condolence to the families and friends of the victims.

Minister of State, Temmy Schmull, shared the gratitude of the Government and people of Palau for the great hospitality shown to the athletes during their stay in Pohnpei and the people's immediate assistance during the tragic incident. Minister Schmull said the two island nations has always historically shared a strong link, the tragic incident he said strengthen that bond.

The Minister reiterated his message during his visit to the Twin Falls where he met the families who participated in the search and rescue mission. He extended special gratitude to the families for their immediate and assiduous efforts in the search and rescue mission and said the tragic incident will forever bind the two nations together, "it is not the sorrow that will continue to dwell on us, it is the experience of what exactly happened that bind us together."

On Tuesday morning, a memorial service at Our Lady of Mercy in Kolonia was packed with local government and non-government officials, athletes, Micro games volunteers and most everybody whose lives were touched by the tragedy.

The remains left for Palau Tuesday afternoon accompanied by officials from Palau, Pohnpei, FSM National Government and all the remaining athletes of Palau's delegation to the 5th Micronesian Games.

Iso Nahnken of Nett, Salvador Iriarte, member of the Paramount Chiefs, headed Pohnpei's accompanying delegation to Palau as the National Government representative, with Lt. Governor Jack E. Yakana and Speaker Feliciano M. Perman of Pohnpei Legislature as State Representatives.

Palau officials have indicated that a state funeral has been scheduled for Friday to bury the three victims of the tragic Twin Falls incident.

For further information on this release, please contact:

FSM Office of the President
Public Information: Press, Radio, Video
P.O Box 34
Palikir Station, Pohnpei, FM 96941
Tel.: (691) 320-2548/2092
Fax.: (691) 320-4356