BEIJING — Preparations for China’s traditional Dragon Boat Festival races took a tragic turn on Saturday when 17 people died after two dragon boats flipped over, throwing dozens of rowers into the churning water.
The accident in the Guangxi region of southern China happened during training for the popular event, also called the Duanwu Festival, which will be held in June and features long boats powered by dozens of rowers racing along rivers and reservoirs.
When two of these boats tried to pass an overflow dam on the Taohua River, they capsized and 57 people onboard fell into the fast-flowing water, an official Guangxi news website and other outlets reported on Sunday. Video on one Chinese news website showed a boat approaching the overflow barrier sideways and suddenly being sucked under while onlookers shouted in dismay.
The government has not issued a full explanation of why the two boats, each about 60 feet long, capsized. An officer who led the rescue, Wang Junshi, said video indicated that one boat flipped first and then the other after its rowers tried to catch up to save people thrown out of the first boat, The Legal Evening News, a Chinese newspaper, said on its website.
The rowers were not wearing life jackets, and one unnamed rescuer said that when drowned bodies were pulled out “you could see that when they fell into the water they were trying to clutch at something,” The Legal Evening News said.