Boat carrying refugees capsizes off coast of Lesbos

LESBOS, Greece — A medical team worked frantically to revive a small child after a boat carrying migrants capsized off the coast on Wednesday. The doctor’s efforts were in vain.

The cries of the bereaved pierced the night.

Lesbos is full of volunteers here to help the migrants. Today, one of the deadliest days, they swaddled young survivors in thermal blankets, trying to ward off hyperthermia.

Adult survivors were visibly traumatized.

The island’s small ambulance service was swamped, and under equipped to deal with such a disaster.

In the darkness, amid the chaos, Greek doctors, and foreign colleagues from international aid agencies did what they could in the triage area on the flagstones.

These people were running away from war and conflict, and they took a wooden boat, because they thought it was safer than the inflatable craft used during the summer. The people traffickers doubled their prices for a place on boats like this.

“We could see the vessel through the binoculars but within a matter of seconds we lost sight of it,” said eye witness Iannis Costakis. “All we could see were life jackets on the surface. So we immediately called the coastguard and Frontex. And even two Turkish boats came and they filled up with people and went back to Turkey. There were at least 150 life jackets visible. It was a big boat, and there must be an awful lot of victims.”

Hours later, a coastguard cutter headed back out to sea to resume the forlorn task of searching for survivors. The sea was flat calm. The afternoon winds that capsize the boat had died down.

A fishing boat that had joined the operation headed for the dock and was surrounded by medics.

The crew had pulled at least one survivor from the water.

Local fishermen and volunteers attached a line to the decrepit pleasure cruiser.

They had to make sure the refugees didn’t panic and capsize the vessel. Fisherman Panayotis Koutsos’ priority was to help rescue the dozens of children on board.

“Can’t the United Nations do something? People are going to get drowned for nothing,” he said. “I’m in the water day and night, and I just can’t watch these children drowning any more. We’re all trying to help here. We’re not bad people on this island, Lesbos. We’re all trying to do what we can and do our duty. It’s a question of humanity. But the powers that be have got take a serious look at this issue and solve it.”

Malcolm Brabant is reporting for the PBS NewsHour on the migrant crisis in Europe. This is a preview of his report on Wednesday’s broadcast.