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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 
55 injured.

   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 
gymnasium hall.

   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.


(KA)


 
 
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