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Banyoles sinking

A pleasure-boat tragedy, brought horror and death to a charming Spanish tourist resort on October 8, 1998, when 20 elderly French tourists drowned in shallow waters on a day of eerily calm waters and clear skies.

The disaster happened on Lake Banyoles near Gerona in north-eastern Spain when the electrically powered Oca (Anna) broke up in 27ft of water just 90ft from the shore. The boat which was licensed to carry 80 people, was overloaded and had 141 - mostly French holidaymakers from La Rochelle - on board. They were staying at the Costa Brava resort of Lloret de Mar.

The Oca, which went into service this year was on a regular daily tourist trip around a scenic lake. Within minutes of departing the boat started to list and ship water and the 141 passengers screamed in panic. Those trapped in the lower deck banged on the glass, others jumped into the chilly waters and struggled to swim ashore.

The horror that sprang without warning from clear skies and calm waters clearly had a devastating impact on all those caught up in the scene but unable to help.

Thirteen bodies were dragged from the water by divers and emergency rescue workers who rushed into the lake with little boats that hauled aboard those who failed to make it to the shore, and those still struggling for breath.

The bodies were lain, covered in sheets, along the little pier before being taken to the local cemetery, which was commandeered as a makeshift mortuary. The bodies were to be repatriated to France.

Another seven died after being rushed by ambulance to hospitals in Banyoles and Gerona, overcome by hypothermia and the deadly effects of gulping water into their lungs.

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