As Rescue Efforts Continue, Korean Ferry Sinks Below Surface

April 18, 2014

As darkness fell Friday in the Yellow Sea off South Korea’s southern coast, there was still no good news to report about efforts to determine if any of the nearly 270 people missing since a passenger ferry capsized Wednesday might still be alive inside the sunken ship.

The overturned ship’s keel, which had been floating just above the surface of the water, disappeared below the waves at day’s end. Officials were trying to determine how best to deploy cranes, which are now at the scene, in an effort to raise the ferry. Families and rescuers are holding out hope that some of the missing might have found shelter in air pockets aboard the ferry.

Most of the 475 people who were on board, and most of those who are still missing, are students from one high school in the city of Ansan, near Seoul. They had been on a trip to the resort island of Jeju. Survivors report hearing a loud bang Wednesday morning just before the ship started to list. At first, survivors say, they were told to stay in place. It was 30 minutes or so, they report, before the order was given to abandon ship. By then, many of those on board reportedly couldn’t get to lifeboats because the ship had tilted too far. Within two hours, the ferry had capsized.

On Friday, Bloomberg News and other outlets report, the school’s vice principal was found hanged in Jindo, the closest port city to the disaster. He had been among those who were able to get off the ferry before it sank. News outlets say no suicide note was found, but that the man was hung with his own belt.

From Jindo, NPR’s Anthony Kuhn reports that coast guard officials on Friday were denying reports that divers had finally been able to get inside the ferry, which is known as the Sewol. South Korea’s Yonhap News, though, was reporting that divers had been able to get inside — but had not yet found any of the missing passengers.

Meanwhile, other developments related to the disaster include:

— Death Toll. As of Friday evening in South Korea, 28 bodies had been recovered. Officials have said 179 people were rescued from the Sewol. That means 268 remain missing.

— Arrest Warrant. The Associated Press reported that local prosecutors asked a court for an arrest warrant so they could take the ship’s captain into custody. Yonhap News was reporting that at the time of the accident, the ferry’s third mate may have been at the helm: “Captain gave wheel to third mate before ferry sank: investigators.”

— Lifting The Ship. “South Korean crews brought three large cranes to the site of the sunken ferryboat on Friday in a bid to lift the overturned vessel,” The Wall Street Journal writes. “South Korea’s maritime ministry said that the cranes were being positioned for the lifting operation, with a fourth crane en route to the site and due to arrive in the afternoon. The salvage operation could take many days, or even longer, based on previous similar retrieval efforts. Kim Soo-hyun, a regional coast guard commander, promised parents not to put any possible survivors at risk by rushing to use the cranes recklessly.”

According to Reuters, the water at the site is “relatively shallow at under 165 feet.”

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