Malaysia races to find 3 European divers, family optimistic

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — A plane, fishermen and and jet skiers joined an expanded search entering a third day Friday for three Europeans, including two teenagers, who disappeared while diving off a southern Malaysian island.

Authorities were hopeful of finding them after Norwegian diving instructor Kristine Grodem was rescued Thursday. She said the four of them surfaced safely Wednesday afternoon but later drifted away from the boat and were separated by a strong current.

The group was diving about 15 meters (50 feet) deep at an island off the town of Mersing in southern Johor state. Grodem, 35, was rescued by a tugboat about 22 nautical miles (40 kilometers) from the dive site.

The missing divers are Alexia Alexandra Molina, 18, of France; Adrian Peter Chesters, 46, of Britain; and his Dutch son, Nathen Renze Chesters, 14.

Authorities deployed a Bombardier jet that can fly longer and cover more area in an expanded search, said First Adm. Nurul Hizam Zakaria, Johor director of the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency. The plane was in addition to three helicopters, 11 boats and some 100 personnel including rescue divers.

Zakaria said members of the public have also lent support, with fishermen and 10 jet skis helping to comb the sea. The weather was reported to be fair. “It’s been three days since they went missing but we will not give up. We hope all of them will be rescued,” Zakaria said.

The search was halted Friday night, and will resume early Saturday. Maritime officials said Grodem was providing training for the other three, who were seeking to obtain advanced diving licenses.

The family of French teenager Molina, who resides in Johor, has meanwhile sought support from private boat owners to join the search. Esther Molina, 57, said she was optimistic that her daughter, who loves the sea, was still alive.

“My daughter is strong, she is smart. So now, we can only wait for developments,” Esther was quoted as saying by national Bernama news agency. She said Alexia was due to attend a fashion college in Kuala Lumpur next month.

The boat skipper was detained for further investigation, and diving activities off Mersing have been suspended. There are several islands off the town that are popular dive spots for local residents and tourists.

Malaysia’s borders reopened to foreigners on April 1 after being closed for more than two years during the COVID-19 pandemic.