Exhausted, bloodied and burned by the Indonesian sun, five Japanese divers were yesterday pulled from the waters off Bali after they were found clinging to a coral reef three days after they disappeared.
As distraught relatives gathered in Bali and around 100 people combed the seas, fears were growing that the divers had not survived.
Then, yesterday afternoon, fishermen spotted five women some 300m off the western coast of Nusa Penida, a small island south east of Bali. Around 12 miles from where the group of seven went missing during a dive trip off Nusa Lembongan on Friday, they had drifted over the course of their ordeal, pulled by currents and battered by wind and rain.
The fate of the two remaining divers was still unknown last night, but the search was to continue today, officials said.
Rudi Tjandi, an official from the Bali disaster agency, said the five were sighted on a large coral reef, but the fishermen's efforts to reach them were thwarted by the rough conditions.
The fishermen then alerted the authorities, who dispatched a helicopter to the area, known as Manta Point.
The first to be rescued was 27-year-old Saori Furukawa, who had been separated from the others and was airlifted from the reef.
"She seemed in quite good health and even helped me search for the others after she was rescued," said Dian Bashari, the helicopter pilot.
The helicopter was unable to reach the others so two rescuers leapt into the water to take them supplies of food, Didi Hamzar, the Bali search and rescue chief, said.
"The location was difficult, near a 70-metre cliff," he explained.
The five survivors were rushed to hospital in Bali. But officials said that while they have suffered minor abrasions, none of the divers are in a serious condition. The women have yet to speak of how they survived their three days at sea.
The dive boat's skipper said that after the divers submerged he had followed them for around 20 minutes but lost sight of them when a sudden downpour churned the water.
He said he then took the boat to an agreed meeting point a few hundred metres away, but the divers failed to surface.
After searching for them for around an hour, he reported the incident to authorities, he said.
But Mr Hamzar said that he had received information that the skipper had run out of fuel while waiting for the divers, and had to leave the area to refuel before returning to the meeting point.
The diving expedition was run by Yellow Scuba, an operator set up by Shoko Takahashi, one of the instructors with the group, and her husband, according to Kenichi Takeyama, a Japanese consular official.
Ms Furukawa is also a locally-based instructor while the others are visiting tourists. The other four divers rescued were named as Emi Yamamoto (33), Nahomi Tomita (29), Aya Morizono (60), and Atsumi Yoshidome (29). Three of the women are nurses at Kobe University Hospital, in the western Japanese city of Kobe.
Mrs Takahashi is believed to be among the divers who remain missing, along with Ritsuko Miyata (59).
"I'm praying for her safety," Mrs Takahashi's mother said.
"She is an active person with a dependable personality. She never does foolhardy things."
The tourists were all experienced scuba divers who had logged more than 50 dives each.
The area located off Nusa Lembongan where the divers disappeared is a popular destination due to its underwater mangrove forests and rich marine life. (© Daily Telegraph, London)