Sunday 21 December 2014

South Korea ferry: Search for survivors as hundreds feared dead

Andrew Salmon in Seoul and Hannah Strange in Seoul

Published 17/04/2014 | 01:48

Rescue helicopters fly over a sinking South Korean passenger ferry that was carrying more than 450 passengers, mostly high school students off South Korea's southern coast. AP
Rescue helicopters fly over a sinking South Korean passenger ferry that was carrying more than 450 passengers, mostly high school students off South Korea's southern coast. AP
A family member of a missing passenger who was on the South Korean ferry 'Sewol' which sank in the sea off Jindo cries as she waits for a rescue team's arrival at a port in Jindo. Reuters
A relative cries as she waits for missing passengers at a port in Jindo, South Korea. 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. AP
A maritime police helicopter rescues passengers who were onboard South Korean ferry 'Sewol' which capsized off Jindo. Almost 300 people were missing after a ferry capsized off South Korea on Wednesday, despite frantic rescue efforts involving coastguard vessels, fishing boats and helicopters, in what could be the country's biggest maritime disaster in over 20 years. Reuters
Part of the capsized South Korean ferry 'Sewol' (C) is seen in the sea off Jindo. Reuters
Maritime officers (in black) try to rescue passengers (in orange coloured life vests) onboard South Korean ferry 'Sewol' which capsized off Jindo. Reuters
The mother of a passenger who was on a sinking ferry reacts as she finds her son at a gym where rescued passengers gather in Jindo. Photo: Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji
The mother of a passenger who was on a sinking ferry reacts after finding her son's name in the survivors list at a gym where rescued passengers gather in Jindo. Photo: Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji
The mother (right) of a passenger who was on a sinking ferry reacts as she finds her son at a gym where rescued passengers gather in Jindo. Photo: Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji
Part of South Korean passenger ship "Sewol" that has been sinking is seen as South Korean maritime policemen search for passengers in the sea off Jindo April 16, 2014. More than 100 people remained missing on Wednesday after a South Korean ferry with 477 people aboard capsized off the country's southwest coast, Yonhap news agency said. REUTERS/Hyung Min-woo/Yonhap
Part of South Korean passenger ship "Sewol" that has been sinking is seen as South Korean maritime policemen search for passengers in the sea off Jindo April 16, 2014. More than 100 people remained missing on Wednesday after a South Korean ferry with 477 people aboard capsized off the country's southwest coast, Yonhap news agency said. REUTERS/Hyung Min-woo/Yonhap
Part of South Korean passenger ship "Sewol" that has been sinking is seen as South Korean maritime policemen search for passengers in the sea off Jindo April 16, 2014. More than 100 people remained missing on Wednesday after a South Korean ferry with 477 people aboard capsized off the country's southwest coast, Yonhap news agency said. REUTERS/Hyung Min-woo/Yonhap
Part of South Korean passenger ship "Sewol" that has been sinking is seen as South Korean maritime policemen search for passengers in the sea off Jindo April 16, 2014. More than 100 people remained missing on Wednesday after a South Korean ferry with 477 people aboard capsized off the country's southwest coast, Yonhap news agency said. REUTERS/Hyung Min-woo/Yonhap
A girl rescued by South Korean maritime policemen from a sinking ship "Sewol" in the sea off Jindo, is treated at a port in Jindo April 16, 2014. More than 100 people remained missing on Wednesday after a South Korean ferry with 477 people aboard capsized off the country's southwest coast, Yonhap news agency said. REUTERS/Hyung Min-woo/Yonhap (SOUTH KOREA - Tags: DISASTER MARITIME) ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. NO SALES. NO ARCHIVES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA
Helicopters are seen above a South Korean passenger ship (C) that has been sinking, in the sea off Jindo April 16, 2014. All 338 high school students and teachers on board a South Korean passenger ferry that was reported to be sinking on Wednesday have been rescued, a school official told Reuters. The ferry, identified as the Sewol, was carrying about 470 passengers, including the students and teachers, en route to Jeju island, about 100 km (60 miles) south of the Korean peninsula. It sent a distress signal after it began to list badly. REUTERS/Yonhap
A South Korean passenger ship (C) that has been sinking, is seen at the sea off Jindo April 16, 2014. All 338 high school students and teachers on board a South Korean passenger ferry that was reported to be sinking on Wednesday have been rescued, a school official told Reuters. The ferry, identified as the Sewol, was carrying about 470 passengers, including the students and teachers, en route to Jeju island, about 100 km (60 miles) south of the Korean peninsula. It sent a distress signal after it began to list badly. REUTERS/Yonhap
A South Korean passenger ship (L) that has been sinking is seen at the sea off Jindo April 16, 2014. A passenger ferry carrying about 470 people was listing badly off South Korea's southwest coast and had sent a distress signal, a Korean coast guard official said on Wednesday, and a rescue mission was underway. REUTERS/Yonhap
A part of a South Korean passenger ship (C) that has been sinking, is seen at the sea off Jindo April 16, 2014. A passenger ferry carrying about 470 people was listing badly off South Korea's southwest coast and had sent a distress signal, a Korean coast guard official said on Wednesday, and a rescue mission was underway. REUTERS/South Korean Navy/Yonhap
A South Korean passenger ship (C) that has been sinking, is seen at the sea off Jindo April 16, 2014. A passenger ferry carrying about 470 people was listing badly off South Korea's southwest coast and had sent a distress signal, a Korean coast guard official said on Wednesday, and a rescue mission was underway.
Rescued passengers wrapped in blankets, who were on a sinking ferry "Sewol" in the sea off Jindo, gather at a port in Seogeochado April 16, 2014. More than 100 people remained missing on Wednesday after a South Korean ferry with 477 people aboard capsized off the country's southwest coast, Yonhap news agency said.REUTERS/Hyung Min-woo/Yonhap
An injured passenger (L) rescued by South Korean maritime policemen from a sinking ship "Sewol" in the sea off Jindo, is treated at a port in Seogeochado April 16, 2014. More than 100 people remained missing on Wednesday after a South Korean ferry with 477 people aboard capsized off the country's southwest coast, Yonhap news agency said. REUTERS/Hyung Min-woo/Yonhap
Passengers are rescued by South Korean maritime policemen from a sinking ship "Sewol" in the sea off Jindo April 16, 2014, in this picture provided by Korea Coast Guard and released by Yonhap. More than 100 people remained missing on Wednesday after a South Korean ferry with 477 people aboard capsized off the country's southwest coast, Yonhap news agency said.REUTERS/Korea Coast Guard/Yonhap
A passenger is rescued by South Korean maritime policemen from a sinking ship "Sewol" in the sea off Jindo April 16, 2014, in this picture provided by Korea Coast Guard and released by Yonhap. More than 100 people remained missing on Wednesday after a South Korean ferry with 477 people aboard capsized off the country's southwest coast, Yonhap news agency said. REUTERS/Korea Coast Guard/Yonhap
An injured passenger rescued by South Korean maritime policemen from a sinking ship in the sea off Jindo, is treated at a port in Jindo April 16, 2014. About 160 passengers, including high school students, were plucked to safety on Wednesday in a dramatic rescue from a South Korean passenger ferry "Sewol" sinking with 475 on board, officials said, although at least two people had died. REUTERS/Park Cheol-hong/Yonhap
A passenger is rescued by South Korean maritime policemen from a sinking ship in the sea off Jindo April 16, 2014, in this picture provided by West Regional Headquarters Korea Coast Guard and released by News1. About 160 passengers, including high school students, were plucked to safety on Wednesday in a dramatic rescue from a South Korean passenger ferry "Sewol" sinking with 475 on board, officials said, although at least two people had died. REUTERS/West Regional Headquarters Korea Coast Guard/News1
An injured passenger who was on a sinking ship, is rescued by South Korean maritime policemen, in the sea off Jindo April 16, 2014 in this picture provided by West Regional Headquarters Korea Coast Guard and released by News1. One person has been found dead in a South Korean ferry that is sinking off the southwest coast, a coast guard official said on Wednesday. The ferry, identified as the Sewol, was carrying about 470 passengers, including 338 high school students and teachers, en route to Jeju island, about 100 km (60 miles) south of the Korean peninsula. REUTERS/West Regional Headquarters Korea Coast Guard/News1
A South Korean maritime police helicopter rescues passengers from a sinking ship in the sea off Jindo, April 16, 2014, in this still image provided by Korea Coast Guard and released by Yonhap. All 338 high school students and teachers on board a South Korean passenger ferry that was reported to be sinking on Wednesday have been rescued, a school official told Reuters. The ferry, identified as the Sewol, was carrying about 470 passengers, including the students and teachers, en route to Jeju island, about 100 km (60 miles) south of the Korean peninsula. It sent a distress signal after it began to list badly. REUTERS/Korea Coast Guard/Yonhap
A South Korean maritime police helicopter rescues passengers from a sinking ship in the sea off Jindo, April 16, 2014, in this still image provided by Korea Coast Guard and released by Yonhap. All 338 high school students and teachers on board a South Korean passenger ferry that was reported to be sinking on Wednesday have been rescued, a school official told Reuters. The ferry, identified as the Sewol, was carrying about 470 passengers, including the students and teachers, en route to Jeju island, about 100 km (60 miles) south of the Korean peninsula. It sent a distress signal after it began to list badly. REUTERS/Korea Coast Guard/Yonhap
A South Korean passenger ship "Sewol" is seen in this undated photo released by Yonhap April 16, 2014. All 338 high school students and teachers on board a South Korean passenger ferry that was reported to be sinking on Wednesday have been rescued, a school official told Reuters. The ferry, identified as the Sewol, was carrying about 470 passengers, including the students and teachers, en route to Jeju island, about 100 km (60 miles) south of the Korean peninsula. It sent a distress signal after it began to list badly. REUTERS/Yonhap
A South Korean passenger ship "Sewol" is seen in this undated photo released by Yonhap on April 16, 2014. All 338 high school students and teachers on board a South Korean passenger ferry that was reported to be sinking on Wednesday have been rescued, a school official told Reuters. The ferry, identified as the Sewol, was carrying about 470 passengers, including the students and teachers, en route to Jeju island, about 100 km (60 miles) south of the Korean peninsula. It sent a distress signal after it began to list badly. REUTERS/Yonhap
A partially sunken ferry is seen off South Korea's southwest coast in this still image from a video released by the South Korean coast guard. Reuters

Six confirmed dead as officials say those inside wreck unlikely to have survived, amid suggestions passengers - including 325 school pupils - were told to stay below deck as ship sank

Naval divers were searching the wreck of a ferry that sank off South Korea with hundreds of school pupils on board, as fears deepened that many of the 300 missing passengers may have died after being trapped inside.

Hopes of finding survivors were fading as night fell over the cold waters off the country’s southern coast. “I’m afraid there’s little chance for those trapped inside still to be alive,” Cho Yang-Bok, a rescue team official, told YTN television.

Parents of the pupils – most thought to be aged 16 and 17 – wept as they gathered at the school in Ansan city near Seoul desperate for news of their children.

There were suggestions from survivors that the ferry operator had told passengers to stay in their positions as the ship sank, ending any chance of escape.

Six were confirmed dead, but what at first appeared to be an impressive rescue effort threatened to become a major maritime disaster as an early tally of 100 missing tripled after a revision by South Korean officials.

The US Navy sent the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard to join the operation, as authorities said that mud on the seabed was complicating the underwater search.

The Sewol ferry was carrying 459 people, of whom 164 have been rescued. It was not immediately clear why it listed heavily and capsized in apparently calm and clear conditions, but some survivors spoke of an impact before the accident. “It was fine.

Then the ship went 'boom’ and there was a noise of cargo falling,” said Cha Eun-ok, who was on the deck taking photographs at the time. Another survivor, a male pupil, said passengers had been told to stay in their seats before the vessel listed sharply, causing panic. “The crew kept telling us not to move,” he said. “Then it suddenly shifted over and people slid to one side and it became very difficult to get out.”

Another student, Lim Hyung-min, said he and other passengers jumped into the sea. “As the ferry was shaking and tilting, we all tripped and bumped into each another,” he said, adding that some people were bleeding. Once he jumped, the ocean “was so cold. ... I was hurrying, thinking that I wanted to live”.

At least 87 vessels and 18 aircraft swarmed around the stricken ferry. Rescuers clambered over its sides, pulling out passengers. The ship then overturned completely and continued to sink slowly. Within a few hours, only its blue-and-white bow stuck out of the water. Soon, that too disappeared.

Survivors were taken to nearby Jindo Island, where medical teams wrapped them in blankets and checked them for injuries in a large gymnasium. One woman lay on a bed shaking uncontrollably. A man wailed as he spoke on his mobile telephone.

The teenagers and teachers from Danwon High School in Ansan city were on a field trip to Jeju island, about 60 miles south of the Korean peninsula. The ferry – built in Japan in 1994 – had sailed from Incheon, the main port for Seoul, on Tuesday night for an overnight, 14-hour journey to the tourist island of Jeju.

At 9am on Tuesday, three hours from its destination and 300 miles from the capital, it sent a distress call after it began listing, according to the ministry of security and public administration.

Lee Gyeong-og, a vice-minister for security and public administration, said 30 crew members, 325 high school students, 15 school teachers and 89 non-student passengers were on board the ship.

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