Posted : 2014-04-16 22:10
Updated : 2014-04-17 14:26

'Wrong instructions increased death toll'

Two helicopters engage in a rescue operation as a passenger ship carrying more than 450 people sinks off the country's southwestern coast, Wednesday. / Yonhap

By Kim Se-jeong, Choi Kyong-ae

Survivors of the ferry Sewol said an announcement from the captain asking passengers to stop moving worsened the situation.

"I ran into my room, after I heard the announcement. But things didn't seem right," a female student who jumped into the water told a local TV station. She injured her hand.

Rescue teams were still far away as the ferry began to tilt to port (left) and sink; and passengers on the left side of the ferry who followed the instructions may have been trapped in the sinking ship.

Those who were on the starboard (right) side of the ferry jumped into the sea. "I had to live," said another survivor with an injury to his right arm.

A majority of passengers were 11th graders at Danwon High School in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province, who were on a school trip to Jeju Island. The ferry left Incheon at 9 p.m. Tuesday and was expected to arrive at Jeju at noon.
President Park Geun-hye, is briefed in an emergency meeting at the Central Disaster Management office in Seoul, Wednesday, following the tragic sinking of the ferry Sewol off Korea's southwestern coast. / Yonhap

A call to an emergency services department in South Jeolla Province recorded the desperate situation.

"The boat is sinking. I don't know where we are. Hold on! I'll let you talk to my teacher." This was at 8:52 a.m.

Three hundred and twenty five students were onboard with 15 teachers. As of 11:00 p.m. Wednesday, four students and a female crewmember have been confirmed dead, but the number is expected to rise as nearly 300 are still missing.

A gym in Jindo, the nearest island where surviving students were taken to be reunited with their families, was filled with endless crying.

Parents who hadn't found their children cried in fear that they might be dead, while those who found them alive wept with joy.

People crowded around boards listing the names of survivors.

Hundreds of parents arrived on the island by bus earlier in the afternoon. Those who stayed behind at home gathered at the school, anxiously watching developing news.

Among the passengers were a group of friends on a trip celebrating their 60th birthdays.


The ferry carrying 462 passengers and crew, including 324 high-school students on a trip to Jeju Island, started to sink at 8.55 a.m. after it hit "something" off the southwestern cost of Korea 10 minutes earlier, the Coast Guard said at a briefing Wednesday.

The vessel's distress signal was received at 8:58 a.m. The first helicopter arrived on the scene at around 10 a.m. after the Coast Guard and the Navy formed a joint task force to lead the rescue operation.

Immediately after being informed of the incident, President Park Geun-hye ordered the team to make every effort to avoid casualties and allocate all available ships to the scene.

Lee Gyeong-og, vice minister of security and public administration (MOSPA), said at a press briefing around 11 a.m. in Seoul that 161 people had been rescued at that point. He said 34 Navy, Coast Guard and civilian vessels were participating in the rescue, along with 18 helicopters.

This increased thanks to other ships and helicopters adding to the effort. As of 4 p.m., it was reported that 164 people had been rescued from the sinking ship, with 293 still missing, according to MOSPA.

In the country's worst offshore incident in 1993, 292 were killed when a passenger ferry carrying 362 people sunk off the west coast.

Around 1:40 p.m., 368 people were reported by some local media to have been rescued, but that report turned out to be wrong due to overlapping calculations by separate rescue workers.

The 6,825-ton car ferry Sewol likely ran into a submerged rock, and search operations were continuing, according to information released at a 4:00 p.m. briefing by MOSPA.

The ferry was headed to the resort island after leaving the western port of Incheon on Tuesday night. It sank about 20 kilometers off the island of Jindo.

MOSPA said they will hold another briefing if there are any new developments involving the sinking.

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