Twenty-three-year-old Aliya Bulkan, of New Providence, East Bank Demerara, daughter of businessman Rustum Bulkan and his wife Kamini went over the waterfall some time around 11 am yesterday, while on a visit to the area. The second of three daughters, Bulkan had only recently returned from the United States where she had been studying. A female relative said yesterday that the family was in deep shock over the incident.
Bulkan and eight other passengers, including one of her close friends, left the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA) on board a Roraima Airways aircraft for the Kaieteur National Park. The group was booked to have a structured tour.
Proprietor of Roraima Airways Gerry Gouveia said the plane took off at 8.20 am and landed at 9.10 am. According to him, the two-hour tour through the national park and then to the waterfall, was nearing completion when the incident occurred.
He said the group was small and so there was only one tour guide. He said the information reaching him was that the tourists were walking in “the usual single file” returning to the aircraft when the young woman turned back towards the falls, screamed and then disappeared.
Gouveia was communicating with his staff at Timehri who recounted that two Koreans who were on the tour recounted that the young woman had been the last person in the line. According to him, his staff had spoken to the Koreans, in particular a woman, who said she saw Bulkan go over the falls. The woman was up to late yesterday very traumatized as was Bulkan’s friend.
“We deem her missing,” Gouveia said. “… Teams out there, including the police, are searching the area and the army is standing by and they have been very helpful.”
Gouveia explained that the fall at this time is at its peak. Kaieteur Falls, easily one of the most powerful falls on the planet, has the rare combination of great height and great volume. Located in the Kaieteur National Park, the approximately 113 metres (370 ft) wide Potaro River plunges 226 metres (741 ft) over a sandstone cliff – Kaieteur’s first break. It then flows over a series of steep cascades which when included in the measurements, bring the total height to 251 metres (822 ft).
Describing the incident as extremely unfortunate, Gouveia said there was need for a re-examination of safety features at the tourist site.
There are no safety rails at Kaieteur Falls, unlike several other waterfalls around the world which are tourist sites.
Contacted for a comment in this regard, Tourism Minister Manniram Prashad said he had heard of the incident but was still awaiting details. He said he would not speak with this newspaper at the time. When probed about the safety issues which may result, he said he would need the full details to comment and recommended that this newspaper contact him on Monday.
Immediate past president of the Tourism and Hospitality Association of Guyana (THAG) Renata Chuck-A-Sang said the incident was extremely unfortunate and ought not to have happened.
Asked whether the issue of better safety mechanisms at the Kaieteur Falls had been raised during her tenure, she replied in the affirmative stating that this was why the tour guides who worked there were the best trained.
“We, as an industry, spent a lot of time to ensure that they were trained well, because Kaieteur is one of the most accessible falls and that’s what makes it one of the most dangerous,” she said.
Chuck-A-Sang said there had been a rush to influence the construction of barriers in some quarters, while some environmentalists had argued for the area to remain untouched because of its delicate eco-system.
“So the challenge has always been how do we handle this concern and still make folks happy,” she said.
She insisted that safety was of paramount concern to the tourism industry but stressed that many had maintained that the fall was pristine and its natural state made it beautiful.
The current THAG president is in the interior and could not be contacted for comment yesterday.
Up to last evening the police had made no progress in the recovery efforts and according to Gouveia the army would pitch in. “It is going to be a very hard recovery effort,” he said.
In 1998 Bulkan was the top student in the Secondary School’s Entrance Examination (SSEE). Back then, the former St Margaret’s Primary School student in an interview with Stabroek News was passionate about becoming an astronomer. Her success did not end there as she was again highlighted in the news when she became one of Queen’s College and the country’s top students in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) exams where she gained eight grade ones and two grade twos.
She attended the University of Guyana and went on to further studies in the United States at Stony Brook University in New York, this newspaper understands.