Some of the nine musicians who drowned in Lake Victoria yesterday morning made desperate telephone calls to their loved ones as their boat capsized.
Many of them drowned when their boat was just three nautical miles from the shore; an equivalent five kilometres on land.
The boat ferrying members of the popular Extra Young Ohangla band began to take in water at about 8 am, with seepage from the hull quickly filling the vessel with the shore just 20 minutes away.
“We were about to dock when we noticed the boat was stalling. Water was seeping from the bottom and it soon started to capsize,” said Phillip Ouma, one of the eight band members who survived.
“We prayed and cried for help. We could see some people at the beach far off. We shouted for anyone we could see, but it was too late. Those who could swim survived and were rescued by fishermen. Those who could not, died a painful death,” said Ouma.
“It was a classic case of God for us all and everyone for himself. I survived because of my swimming skills. I looked behind and saw water my passengers drinking in water, but there was nothing I could do to help them,” said Kamulus Owidhi, the boat’s coxswain.
The eight survivors spoke of tearful and anxious moments as they swam to safety, haunted by cries for help from their dying band members.
But they swam on motivated by a will to survive, said Mercy Adhiambo, 23, the only female survivor.
Two of the three women in the band members died.
The group had performed at Lihanda Beach in Bondo on Friday night and were heading to Denda Beach across the lake to honour another gig.
Among the dead was Charles Oketch, an orphan who was the only bread winner in his family.
His sister Eunice Akoth wept uncontrollably at the beach yesterday. “He was a gifted electrician. We are orphans and he was our only bread winner. What will we do now?” she sobbed.
The band leader Eric Odhiambo, 23, survived.
The search for bodies continued for much of yesterday as grieving relatives and fans of the band flocked into Lihanda Beach where the musicians had boarded the ill-fated boat.
Bondo OCPD Paul Kiarie coordinated the search operation with Nyanza regional police boss Willy Lugusa seeking to mobilise support from the National Disaster team.
Lugusa said the passengers had not worn life jackets, possibly leading to the high casualties.
Among leaders present were Nyangoma Assistant County Commissioner Angelina Were and Central Sakwa MCA Johannes Andiego.
Mr Andiego said this was the worst maritime accident in the area in 41 years.
Lihanda Beach Management Unit Chairman John Nyadido and Secretary Rashid Odhiambo asked the government to help them reinforce safety rules along the beaches.
As the rescue effort went on, village elders said cultural rituals would have to be followed where survivors will spend the night at the beach until the bodies of those who drown are found. The belief among this Luo fishing community is that bodies of those who drown would not be traced if this rite is not adhered to.
A local elder, John Otegno, said the culture was elaborate and involved exorcising the evil spirits that caused the deaths.
“We will be calling the names of each of the dead people each day. We expect them to respond to our ancestors and resurface,” said Otegno.