News Asia-Pacific

Monday 18 February 2019

'Surviving alone is too painful – I will be teacher in afterlife'

A diver jumps in near the buoys installed to mark the sunken ferry Sewol
A diver jumps in near the buoys installed to mark the sunken ferry Sewol

Malcolm Moore Jindo, South Korea

The police found his body in the early afternoon, hanging by his belt from a tree, with a note in his wallet expressing his grief at the deaths of his students.

On Wednesday morning, 52-year-old Kang Min-gyu, the deputy headmaster of Danwon high school outside Seoul, had been having breakfast with his teenage charges in the cafeteria of the Sewol ferry as it made its way to the holiday island of Jeju.

His text messages back to his colleagues at the school suggest he did everything by the book. "Water is rushing in," he wrote at 8.55am, shortly after the distress call was first made. "The boat is leaning 15 degrees, the coastguard is here, all the students have their life jackets on," he wrote at 9.11am.

But while Mr Kang and 75 students were rescued, 14 died and another 236 remain in a watery grave, trapped inside the submerged hull.

"Surviving alone is too painful while 200 remain unaccounted for. I take full responsibility. I pushed ahead with the school trip," his note said.

"I will once again become a teacher in the afterlife for my students whose bodies have not been discovered."

After the police cut down his body, he was taken across the road to the Jindo funeral parlour and cremated. His ashes, according to his wishes, will be scattered on the ocean where the Sewol sank.

The news of his death caused barely a ripple inside the Jindo gymnasium, where Mr Kang had stayed with hundreds of parents, waiting for news from the rescue operation.

As hope has faded, the gymnasium has become a cauldron of anger and despair. Yesterday, medical staff darted around the hall, attending to parents convulsing and screaming in grief. At least 20 parents have had treatment for shock at the local hospital, a doctor said.

Relatives were quick to blame Mr Kang and other teachers for the fate of their children. "I saw him on Thursday afternoon around 4pm," said Kwon Hyeok-ryung (55), whose brother-in-law was also a teacher at the school, but is still missing.

"He felt a lot of responsibility, and he was under a lot of pressure. The parents blamed him for surviving. They screamed, 'How can you be a teacher and let your students die? How can you live with yourself?' They were grabbing him, trying to beat him."

About an hour after Mr Kwon saw Mr Kang, he walked out of the gym and disappeared. A police search began during the night.

Meanwhile, prosecutors were busy last night filing arrest warrants for Lee Jun-seok (69), the captain of the Sewol, the third mate who was steering the ship at the time of the disaster and another crew member. The three men are likely to face criminal charges of deserting their ship after being among the first to leave the boat.

Kang Hye-sung (31), the crew member who made the fatal announcements telling passengers to remain where they were, said he had been following orders from Capt Lee. "It was so hectic in the ship that I couldn't even think to make any judgment," he said.

At the wharf in Jindo, hundreds more parents and relatives continued to hurl abuse at South Korean officials as the hunt for survivors became an operation to retrieve corpses.

"You have stopped the rescue, now you just want to pull out dead bodies." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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