Hundreds Still Missing in SKorean Ferry Sinking (Updated)

A relative weeps while awaiting news about missing passengers of a sunken ferry at Jindo port, South Korea.

Photo: Ahn Young-joon/AP

(Updated from earlier accounts.) As of 2 a.m. Thursday, South Korean time, 179 aboard the capsized ferry bound for Jeju-do had been rescued, with six confirmed dead and 290—mostly high school students—still missing and feared dead in what is expected to be one the worst maritime accidents in the country’s history.

Authorities fear that the large number of people unaccounted for may have gotten trapped in the ship, which was completely submerged within two hours of the initial distress call, and that the death toll could rise dramatically, even as search operations continued into the second day.


Four of the fatalities, three of them students, were identified as Park Ji-young, a staff worker for the ferry company; and Jung Cha-woong, Kwon Oh-chun and Lim Kyung-bin, all students from Danwon High School in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province. The two others had not been identified.

Image via Yonhap

Officials said 325 students from the high school were aboard the ferry, accompanied by 15 teachers, as it was en route to Jeju-do for a four-day trip. Heartbreaking text messages from students feared not to make it off the ferry alive were shared in Korean media. One read, “Mom, this might be my last chance to tell you I love you.”

South Korean officials believe that the 6,825-ton ferry, the Sewol, may have struck an underwater rock at about 8:40 a.m. yesterday, while in the waters south of Gwanmae Island in Jindo County. South Korean media said it took 18 minutes to send the Coast Guard a distress call, followed by dramatic rescue efforts involving 18 helicopters, more than a dozen Navy ships and Navy SEALs, plus a U.S. Navy ship that later was deployed.

Strong currents and low visibility, however, hampered search efforts.

Meanwhile, surviving passengers, in various media accounts, described water rushing into the vessel as the ferry tilted, preventing many from reaching exits. One passenger, Kim Seong-mok, told YTN that there was a crew announcement telling passengers to stay where they were and said he never heard an evacuation announcement. He believes many were left trapped inside the ferry.

Koo Bon-hee, a businessman who was also on the ferry, told the Associated Press that “the rescue wasn’t done well.”

“We were wearing life jackets. We had time,” said Koo, who was being treated for minor injurities in Mokpo. “If people had jumped into the water … they could have been rescued. But we were told not to go out.”

But some of the dozen or so crew members said the ferry’s severe tilt prevented them from helping more passengers escape.

Survivors described water bursting into the ferry even as they tried to put on life vests. “Many of my friends could not don life vests because the sea water burst in too rapidly,” said Lee Da-woon, a junior from Danwon High School.

Frantic parents gathered at the school auditorium yesterday upon hearing the news, and local newspapers described them desperately trying to make phone calls to their children and yelling at school officials for answers.

There were initial reports saying that almost all of the passengers were rescued, but authorities later had to retract, admitting a miscalculation. Meanwhile, the ferry company initially said that 477 people were on board, but the government reported 459. The ferry company later changed the figure to 462, with a final figure still uncertain.