4 Dead, 292 Missing From SKorea Ferry 04/16 06:07
A ferry carrying 459 people, mostly high school students on an overnight
trip to a tourist island, sank off South Korea's southern coast on Wednesday,
leaving nearly 300 people missing despite a frantic, hours-long rescue by
dozens of ships and helicopters. At least four people were confirmed dead and
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- A ferry carrying 459 people, mostly high school
students on an overnight trip to a tourist island, sank off South Korea's
southern coast on Wednesday, leaving nearly 300 people missing despite a
frantic, hours-long rescue by dozens of ships and helicopters. At least four
people were confirmed dead and 55 injured.
The high number of people unaccounted for --- likely trapped in the ship or
floating in the ocean --- raised fears that the death toll could rise
drastically, making it one of South Korea's biggest ferry disasters since 1993,
when 292 people died.
One student, Lim Hyung-min, told broadcaster YTN after being rescued that he
and other students jumped into the ocean wearing life jackets and then swam to
a nearby rescue boat.
"As the ferry was shaking and tilting, we all tripped and bumped into each
another," Lim said, adding that some people were bleeding. Once he jumped, the
ocean "was so cold. ... I was hurrying, thinking that I wanted to live."
Local television stations broadcast live pictures of the ship, Sewol,
listing to its side and slowly sinking as passengers jumped out or were winched
up by helicopters. At least 87 vessels and 18 aircraft swarmed around the
stricken ship. Rescuers clambered over its sides, pulling out passengers
wearing orange life jackets. But the ship overturned completely and continued
to sink slowly. Within a few hours only its blue-and-white bow stuck out of the
water. Very soon, that too disappeared.
Some 160 coast guard and navy divers searched for survivors inside the
ship's wreckage a few kilometers (miles) from Byeongpung Island, which is not
far from the mainland. The area is about 470 kilometers (290 miles) from Seoul.
Those rescued --- wet, stunned and many without shoes --- were brought to
nearby Jindo Island, where medical teams wrapped them in pink blankets and
checked them for injuries before settling them down on the floor of a cavernous
The ship had set sail from Incheon, a city in South Korea's northwest and
the site of the country's main international airport, on Tuesday night for an
overnight, 14-hour journey to the tourist island of Jeju.
Three hours from its destination, the ferry sent a distress call at about 9
a.m. Wednesday after it began listing to one side, according to the Ministry of
Security and Public Administration. Officials didn't know what caused it to
sink and said the focus was still on rescuing survivors.
Lee Gyeong-og, a vice minister for South Korea's Public Administration and
Security Ministry, said 30 crew members, 325 high school students, 15 school
teachers and 89 non-student passengers were aboard the ship.
Kang Byung-kyu, a government minister, said two of the dead were a female
crew member and a male high school student. He said a third body was also
believed to be that of a student. A coast guard officer confirmed a fourth
fatality but had no immediate details about it.
Kang said 164 people were rescued, of whom 55 were injured. Officials said
292 people were missing.
Yonhap news agency said the 146-meter (480-foot) -long ship, which travels
twice a week between Incheon and Jeju, was built in Japan in 1994 and could
carry a maximum of 921 people, 180 vehicles and 152 shipping containers.
The water temperature in the area was about 12 degrees Celsius (54
Fahrenheit), cold enough to cause signs of hypothermia after about 1 hours of
exposure, according to an emergency official who spoke on condition of
anonymity citing department rules. Officials said mud on the ocean floor made
underwater search operations difficult. Lee, the vice minister, said the ocean
is 37 meters (121 feet) deep in the area.
Passenger Kim Seong-mok told YTN that he was certain that many people were
trapped inside the ferry as water quickly rushed in and the severe tilt of the
vessel kept them from reaching the exits. Some people urged those who couldn't
get out to break windows.
Kim said that after having breakfast he felt the ferry tilt and then heard
it crash into something. He said the ferry operator made an announcement asking
that passengers wait and not move from their places. Kim said he didn't hear
any announcement telling passengers to escape.
The students --- half of them boys and half girls--- are from Danwon High
School in Ansan city, which is near Seoul, and were on their way to Jeju island
for a four-day trip, according to a relief team set up by Gyeonggi province,
which governs the city. There are faster ways to get to Jeju, but some people
take the ferry from Incheon because it is cheaper than flying. Many South
Korean high schools organize trips for students in their first or second years,
and Jeju is a popular destination. The students on the ferry were in their
second year, which would make most of them 16 or 17.
At the high school, students were sent home and parents gathered for news
about the ferry.
Park Ji-hee, a first-year student, said she saw about a dozen parents crying
at the school entrance and many cars and taxis gathered at the gate as she left
in the morning.
She said some students in her classroom began to cry as they saw the news on
their handsets. Teachers tried to soothe them, saying that the students on the
ferry would be fine.
The Maritime Ministry said the two previous deadliest ferry disasters were
in 1970 when 323 people drowned and in 1993 when 292 people died.