Divers pulled seven bodies out of the Sava River and fought strong currents Friday to search for five other missing people after two canoes were crushed running over a dam in southeastern Slovenia.
Police spokesman, Pavel Perc, said two people managed to swim ashore after their boats broke up and capsized. Both were hospitalized; one was in critical condition, he said.
The accident happened late Thursday, when two large canoes decided to run over a dam under construction near Sevnica, a town 56 miles (90 kilometers) southeast of the capital of Ljubljana. The dam, part of a hydroelectric plant, is currently built only to about the height of the water.
The trip - ominously dubbed "The Final Descent" - was organized by local officials and all participants were Slovenians. It was to be the last ride down that section of the river, which will soon be blocked by the hydroelectric plant.
Two other canoes - part of the four-boat excursion - left the river before reaching the site.
Slovenian TV journalist Goran Rovan, who had been in one of the safe canoes, told the state-run news agency STA that the other canoes capsized and broke apart when they hit the whitewater passing through the dam gates. The occupants fell into the river and were sucked into the underwater tunnel leading to the generator turbines.
Slovenian TV showed footage Friday of the canoes entering the dam, followed by the sound of screams. Then the kayaks broke up and capsized.
Police divers raced immediately to the scene, but rescue operation has been hampered by the river's strong currents. More than 15 divers combed the river Friday, trying to find survivors or bodies. A police helicopter flew over the area, while police, civil protection and fire services swept the river banks.
Prime Minister Janez Jansa rushed to the site in early Friday, declaring the accident a "great tragedy."
"(Rescuers) are doing everything that is humanely possible," he said.
Slovenian parliament canceled its Friday session.
Slovenian media said a local mayor, who also is a member of parliament, was among the victims.