A ferry carrying 462 people, mostly high school students on an overnight trip to a tourist island, sank off South Korea’s southern coast on Wednesday, leaving more than 280 people missing despite a frantic, hours-long rescue by dozens of ships and helicopters. At least four people were confirmed dead and 55 injured.
Coast guard members searching near the South Korean ferry after it capsized on way to Jeju island from Incheon. - AFP
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.
The ship had set off from Incheon on Tuesday night for a 14-hour journey to the tourist island of Jeju. Three hours from its destination, the ferry sent a distress call at about 9am on Wednesday after it began listing to one side.
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.
Authorities said the dead included a female crew member and two male high school students. A coast guard officer confirmed a fourth fatality but had no immediate details about it. Kang Byung-kyu, a government minister, said 55 people were injured.
Coast guard officials said late Wednesday that they had found one more person who had been unaccounted for — a five-year-old girl who was staying alone at a hospital after being rescued — raising the number of survivors to 175. A total of 283 people remained missing.
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