South Korea ferry disaster: Divers struggle in search for survivors

Apr 17 2014, 22:14 IST
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SummaryRescuers struggled with strong waves and murky waters on Thursday as they searched for hundreds of people, most of them teenagers from the same school, still missing after the South Korea ferry disaster happened some 36 hours ago.

Rescuers struggled with strong waves and murky waters on Thursday as they searched for hundreds of people, most of them teenagers from the same school, still missing after the South Korea ferry disaster happened some 36 hours ago.

Coastguard, navy and private divers scoured the site of the accident, about 20 km (12 miles) off the country's southwestern coast.

Earlier, rescue teams hammered on the hull of the upturned, mostly submerged vessel, hoping for a response from anyone trapped inside, but they heard nothing, local media reported.

The vessel, carrying 475 passengers and crew, capsized on Wednesday during a journey from the port of Incheon to the holiday island of Jeju.

Coastguards recovered five more bodies late on Thursday, raising the death toll to 14 people. Another 179 passengers have been rescued, leaving 282 unaccounted for and possibly trapped in the vessel.

One parent, Park Yung-suk, told Reuters at the port of Jindo, where rescue efforts are centred, that she had seen the body of her teenage daughter's teacher brought ashore.

"If I could teach myself to dive, I would jump in the water and try to find my daughter," she said. Her daughter was one of 340 children and teachers from the Danwon High School in Ansan, a Seoul suburb, on board the vessel.

The captain of the ship, Lee Joon-seok, 69, faces a criminal investigation, coastguard officials said, amid unconfirmed reports that he was one of the first to jump to safety from the stricken vessel.

One official said authorities were investigating whether the captain had indeed abandoned the vessel early and one of the charges he faced was violating a law that governs the conduct of shipping crew.

SHALLOW WATERS, BUT DANGEROUS

Many survivors told local media that Lee was one of the first to be rescued, although none actually saw him leave the ship. The coastguard and the ferry operator declined comment.

Although the water at the site of the accident is relatively shallow at under 50 metres (165 feet), it is still dangerous for the 150 or so divers working flat out, experts said. Time was running out to find any survivors trapped inside, they said.

"The chances of finding people in there (alive) are not zero," said David Jardine-Smith, secretary of the International Maritime Rescue Federation, adding, however, that conditions were extremely difficult.

"There is a lot of water current and silt in the water which means visibility is very poor and the divers are basically feeling

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