News Asia-Pacific

Wednesday 27 August 2014

'I cannot talk . . . I need to go out and help the kids'

Malcolm Moore Jindo

Published 21/04/2014 | 02:30

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South Korean ferry "Sewol" is seen sinking in the sea off Jindo
South Korean ferry "Sewol" is seen sinking in the sea off Jindo

AS the water rose inside the stricken ferry, Yang Dae-hong (44), the chief officer, made one last telephone call to his wife.

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"The ship is tilting now," he told Ahn So-hyun 90 minutes before it capsized and sank. "Use the money in the bank for school fees."

"What is going on?" she asked him in confusion.

"I cannot talk for long now, I need to go out and help the kids," he replied.

These were his last words, according to his wife and brother, who appeared in the nearby city of Mokpo to apologise to relations of the hundreds of dead and missing.

Responding to criticism that the crew had abandoned ship before their passengers, Mrs Ahn said: "My husband did not have any plan to leave first. We are very sorry for the people who have lost their loved ones."

Mr Yang was not the only crew member who died trying to save others. Park Jee-young (25), who was working in the cafeteria, helped 20 students from Danwon high school while the ship was listing at 45 degrees. "I asked her why she was not wearing a life jacket and she told me she would be fine and would leave after all of us," said one unnamed student.

When the water began to rise, she told the horrified students to ignore orders to stay put and to jump from the ship. "Go up to the fourth floor," she urged.

Her body was found on the first day of the rescue operation.

Nam Yun-cheol (36), a teacher at the Danwon school, died trying to rescue his students. As the ship started sinking, he went below deck to the cabins to fetch them. "I saw him throwing life jackets. That was the last time anyone saw him alive," said an unnamed student. His body was found last Thursday.

Over the weekend, it emerged that the person at the helm of the Sewol was not its experienced captain but a 25-year-old third mate who was navigating them for the first time.

"I briefly went to my bedroom," admitted 69-year-old captain Lee Joon-seok for the first time. "I was on my way back when the accident happened."

Capt Lee's decision to step away from the helm was the first of a chain of calamitous errors that seem set to cost more than 300 lives.

No one has been found alive since just after the ship sank last Wednesday morning; and after more than 100 hours submerged in icy water, the window for anything other than a miracle has firmly closed. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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