Divers entered the doomed Sewol ferry in waters off South Korea’s coast today, hoping against hope to find additional survivors as prosecutors seek an arrest warrant for the ship’s captain and two crew members.
West Maritime Police told ABC news that the disgraced captain – identified as Lee Joon-seok, 68 – left the bridge before the vessel sank Wednesday, leaving the steering and command to the ship’s third mate, someone with just over a year’s worth of experience.
Prosecutors said today they've asked a court to issue an arrest warrant for the captain and two crew members.
Transcripts of a ship-to-shore exchange and crew member accounts show that the captain delayed the evacuation for half an hour after a South Korean transportation official told the ship it might have to evacuate.
The comment, made by an unidentified official at the Jeju Vessel Traffic Services Center, came five minutes after a distress call by the Sewol. A crew member on the ferry, which was bound for Jeju island, replied that “it’s hard for people to move.”
Frantic, harrowing moments followed. Newly-released video from inside the ship shows that fight for survival. The video, released by Korea’s KBS network, shows passengers growing afraid.
“Water’s rising!” says one of the passengers. “Water’s coming in!”
One man used a fire hose as a lifeline.
As the ferry tilted before its watery descent, the passengers were told to put on life jackets and stay where they were. Some of them huddled together. That’s how search crews found several bodies today, some of the 28 confirmed dead. The death toll is expected to rise much, much higher.
Coast Guard officials say 268 of the ferry’s 475 passengers remain missing. Most of the missing – 239 – were students on a class trip from Danwon High School.
The school, located in Ansan, near Seoul, has become a place of grieving. Relatives waited inside the school’s gym as authorities arrived, sharing dreadful updates – another body discovered, another young life cut short.
A vice principal at the school was found dead today, hanging from a pine tree near the gym, authorities told ABC News. He was a passenger on the ship, one of the survivors.
Surviving students are devastated by the tragedy. Lee Songyong’s best friend is missing.
“My friend, he was ridiculously nice,” he said, crying. “I have no idea how someone is going to survive in that cold water.”
Strong currents and rain hampered today’s rescue efforts. Rescue crews pumped compressed oxygen into the ship today, in the desperate hope that someone needs it.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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