5 Peru balloon riders found, 2 missing at sea

LIMA (AFP) - Five women who were riding in a hot air balloon were found on Sunday after being rescued from the Pacific Ocean, while workers searched for two male passengers who are still missing, officials said.

"Thank God, we have located five female occupants and we are continuing to search for the two missing men, whom we hope to find alive," Interior Minister Wilfredo Pedraza told reporters on Canete beach south of Lima.

"There is joy, but also still tension because we need to find the other two young people."

The women were spotted at sea and immediately rescued by two helicopters and a patrol. They were being treated in hospital.

Mr Pedraza sharply criticised balloon owner Globos Peru SAC, accusing it of "grave negligence" for not requiring the passengers to wear life vests on the flight over the Pacific.

He also lashed out at Globos for failing to outfit the balloon with a GPS system so that it could be tracked.

The balloon's basket originally held seven Peruvians - six tourists and the pilot. Globos manager Luis Miguel Fernandez earlier said the basket can float on water.

At least one of the male passengers tried to swim to shore, so the search area has widened, according to Mr Pedraza.

The balloon was lost about 200 kilometres south of Lima, and was probably swept by a strong wind into the Pacific Ocean, which was covered in dense fog.

Officials said those taking part in the search included police, the coast guard and private citizens who volunteered their boats to aid in the rescue effort.

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