• Forecast
  • News Tip
  • Categories
News Alert: Latest updates on McHugh Fire - Read More
Temperature Precipitation
Estimated read time
6m 10s

Nearly 300, mostly teens, missing after South Korean ferry sinks

By CBS/AP 3:50 PM April 16, 2014
MOKPO, South Korea –

Koo Bon-hee could see the exit. For half an hour, as the doomed ferry filled with water and listed severely on its side, the crew told passengers to wait for rescuers.

With their breathing room disappearing, the 36-year-old businessman and some of the other passengers floated to an exit and swam to a nearby fishing boat.

But 290 of the 475 people aboard – many of them high school students on a class trip – were still missing after the ferry sank Wednesday off the southern coast of South Korea. Six were confirmed dead and 55 were injured.

Early Thursday, divers, helicopters and boats continued to search for survivors from the ferry, which slipped beneath the surface until only the blue-tipped, forward edge of the keel was visible. The high number of people unaccounted for – possibly trapped in the ship or floating in the chilly water nearby – raised fears that the death toll could increase drastically.

It was still unknown why the ferry sank, but CBS News’ Seth Doane reported that many said they heard a loud crash before the ship began to tilt badly. The coast guard was interviewing the captain and crew.

The Sewol, a 480-foot vessel that can hold more than 900 people, set sail Tuesday from Incheon, in northwestern South Korea, on an overnight, 14-hour journey to the tourist island of Jeju.

About 9 a.m. Wednesday, when it was three hours from Jeju, the ferry sent a distress call after it began listing to one side, according to the Ministry of Security and Public Administration.

Passenger Kim Seong-mok told broadcaster YTN that after having breakfast, he felt the ferry tilt and then heard it crash into something. He said an announcement told passengers to not move from their places and that he never heard another about evacuating.

He said he was certain that many people were trapped inside the ferry as water rushed in and the severe tilt of the vessel kept them from reaching the exits.

Koo also complained about the crew’s efforts during the initial stages of the disaster, saying early misjudgments may account for the large number of missing.

In addition to the order not to evacuate immediately, Koo said many people were trapped inside by windows that were too hard to break.

“The rescue wasn’t done well. We were wearing life jackets. We had time,” Koo, who was on a business trip to Jeju with a co-worker, said from a hospital bed in Mokpo, the nearest major city to the site of the accident, where he was treated for minor injuries. “If people had jumped into the water … they could have been rescued. But we were told not to go out.”

Oh-Yong-seok, a 58-year-old crew member who escaped with about a dozen others, including the captain, told The Associated Press that rescue efforts were hampered by the ferry’s severe tilt.

“We couldn’t even move one step. The slope was too big,” Oh said.

Student Lim Hyung-min told YTN that he and others jumped into the water 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.”

Dozens of coast guard and navy divers searched for survivors around the Sewol’s wreckage a little north of Byeongpung Island, which is not far from the mainland and about 290 miles from Seoul.

Coast guard spokesman Cho Man-yong said 16 divers could not get inside the ferry Wednesday night because the current was too strong. The water was muddy and visibility was poor, he said, but divers would try again Thursday morning.

“We cannot give up,” said South Korean President Park Geun-hye, after a briefing in Seoul. “We have to do our best to rescue even one passenger.”

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the U.S. and its 7th Fleet stood ready to assist, including the USS Bonhomme Richard, which was in the region.

The last major ferry disaster in South Korea was in 1993, when 292 people were killed.

TV stations broadcast live pictures Wednesday of the listing Sewol as passengers clambered over the side, jumped into the sea or were hoisted up by helicopters. At least 87 vessels and 18 aircraft swarmed around the stricken ferry.

The water temperature in the area was about 54 Fahrenheit, cold enough to cause signs of hypothermia after about 1 1/2 hours of exposure, according to an emergency official who spoke on condition of anonymity because department rules did not allow talking to the media.

Lee Gyeong-og, a vice minister for the Public Administration and Security Ministry, said the ocean was 121 feet deep in the area.

The survivors – wet, stunned and many without shoes – were brought to nearby Jindo Island, where medical teams wrapped them in pink blankets and checked for injuries before taking them to a cavernous gymnasium.

As the search dragged on, families of the missing gathered at a nearby dock, some crying and holding each other. Boats circled the sunken ferry into the night, illuminated by red flares.

Angry shouts could be heard when Prime Minister Chung Hong-won visited a shelter where relatives of the missing passengers waited for news. Some yelled that the government should have sent more divers to search the wreckage.

The numbers of passengers, as well as the dead and missing, fluctuated throughout the day. As of early Thursday, South Korean authorities estimated 475 people were on the ferry.

Of that total, there were 325 students and 15 teachers from Danwon High School in Ansan, a city near Seoul. They were headed to Jeju for a four-day trip, according to a relief team set up by Gyeonggi province.

Authorities said the dead included a female member of the crew and two male students. A coast guard officer confirmed three other fatalities but had few details about them. Kang Byung-kyu, a government minister, said 55 people were injured. Coast guard officials put the number of survivors early Thursday at 179.

Students who survived described a chaotic scene as panicking passengers tripped over each other trying to escape.”I almost got trapped,” one girl said. “I was told to to outside, but I couldn’t.”

“There were a lot of students who did not get out of the ship,” a boy said.

Wet and stunned survivors were treated for broken bones and hypothermia.

Frantic parents were trying to determine whether their children were safe.

“We have to see what happened to our children!” one man yelled.

Many South Korean high schools organize trips for first- or second-year students, and Jeju is a popular destination. The students on the ferry were in their second year, which would make most of them 16 or 17.At Danwon High School, students were sent home early and parents gathered for news about their children. Park Ji-hee, a first-year student, said she saw about a dozen parents crying at the school entrance.

There are faster ways to get to Jeju, but the ferry from Incheon is cheaper than flying.

The Sewol, which traveled twice a week between Incheon and Jeju, was built in Japan in 1994 and could carry a maximum of 921 people, 180 vehicles and 152 shipping containers, according to the Yonhap news agency.

CBS News/AP

Latest Stories

  • News

    Hiker missing in Denali National Park found after search

    by Associated Press on Jul 25, 7:29

    A missing hiker has been found in good condition after a two-day search at Denali National Park and Preserve. A helicopter crew spotted the 42-year-old hiker Sunday night about six miles from where he was last seen Friday. Park officials identified him as Mukunda Egen from California, who is seasonally employed in the area. No […]

  • Weather

    Officials warn ‘imminent’ flooding may occur after steady rain along Matanuska River

    by KTVA 11 News on Jul 25, 6:14

    After three days of rainfall along the Matanuska River, emergency officials are preparing for “imminent” flooding. Portions of the bank began to show signs of breeching Sunday between the Maude Road Extension and Mile 15 and Mile 13 of the Old Glenn Highway, according to a release from the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Department of Emergency Services. There is no […]

  • Crime

    Caught on video: Driver rams SUV with toddler inside

    by Eric Ruble on Jul 24, 23:07

    An Anchorage couple is asking for help identifying the driver of a blue Ford F-150 after being chased and rammed repeatedly by the unknown vehicle Friday evening. Cell phone video making rounds on social media this weekend shows couple’s view from inside their sport utility vehicle as it was hit repeatedly by the pickup truck. Grace […]

  • News

    Aussies won’t move to Rio village yet; power, plumbing fears

    by Stephen Wade / AP Sports Writer on Jul 24, 17:52

    RIO DE JANEIRO — Australia’s Olympic team leader is keeping the delegation’s 700 athletes or staff out of the Athletes Village for at least two days, citing electrical and plumbing problems in the sprawling complex less than two weeks before the start of the games in Rio de Janeiro. “Electricity and water is not a […]

  • News

    AST: Man’s body found floating near Ketchikan

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Jul 24, 16:44

    An unidentified man’s body was found floating in the Tongass Narrows near Ketchikan Saturday evening, according to Alaska State Troopers. Troopers responded to the 4700 block of the North Tongass Highway around 6:45 p.m. after receiving a report of a body. The man’s body was brought to shore shortly after that, according to an online trooper […]

  • News

    Police: Man, likely attacker, dies in explosion in Germany

    by Associated Press on Jul 24, 16:31

    Police in the southern German city of Ansbach say a man was killed when an explosive device he was believed to be carrying went off near an open-air music festival, injuring 10 people. Ansbach police said in a statement early Monday that just after 10 p.m. Sunday they were alerted to an explosion in the […]

  • Crime

    Woman wanted on felony warrant following early morning fight involving multiple people

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Jul 24, 14:53

    The Anchorage Police Department is actively searching for a woman for whom they’ve obtained a felony warrant following a fight involving multiple suspects on Russian Jack Drive. Multiple people called APD around 4:19 a.m. to report a fight on the 1600 block of Russian Jack Drive. When police arrived, they spoke with a woman who […]

  • News

    Search underway for California man missing in Denali National Park

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Jul 24, 14:44

    About 40 people are helping the search for Mukunda Egen, a 42-year-old California man who was last seen on Friday night while hiking in Denali National Park and Preserve. Egen and a friend set up a campsite at the Teklanika Campground and decided to hike from that area Friday afternoon, according to a statement from […]