South Korea ferry: Six teenage girls who survived Sewol horror describe 'floating out of cabins' as ship filled with water

Among the 75 teenagers who saw 250 of their fellow students drowned

The first of 75 school children to speak in the trial over the South Korean ferry disaster have described how they were forced to float to safety after coastguard officers refused to help them and crew members told them to stay where they were.

Six teenage girls gave their testimony today as 15 members of the Sewol’s crew faced charges ranging from abandoning ship to manslaughter.

The horrific incident on 16 April, South Korea’s worst disaster in 44 years, saw 304 people killed. The dead included 250 teenagers from the same high school and 12 of their teachers.

Speaking today about how they witnessed the deaths of hundreds of their fellow students, the girls had their names protected and were offered the chance to speak behind a screen or via video link to minimise the trauma of going over the ordeal again.

One of the teenagers described how, even with the ship heavily listing and the water clearly flowing in, crew members had told passengers, “specifically the students of Danwon High School”, to stay in their cabins.

“We were waiting and, when the water started coming in, the class rep told everyone to put on the life vest,” another said.

South Korean coast guard officers try to rescue passengers from the Sewol ferry as it sinks in the water off the southern coast near Jindo, south of Seoul, South Korea File: South Korean coast guard officers try to rescue passengers from the Sewol ferry as it sinks in the water off the southern coast near Jindo, south of Seoul, South Korea “The door was above our heads, so she said we'll float and go through the door and that's how we came out. Other children who got out before us pulled us out.”

The teenagers were critical of coastguard officers, who allegedly waited on boats at a distance from the stricken ferry for passengers to swim out rather than going into the ship to try and rescue them.

“They were outside,” one said. “They pulled us [onto boats] but they didn't come inside to help. We said to ourselves: ‘Why aren't they coming in?’.”

Video warning: Footage from April showing the last moments on board

 Another student said it appeared there were more fishermen involved in the rescue than coastguard officers. Like others, she said the crew should be punished severely for their actions.

“More than that, I want to know the fundamental reason why my friends had to end up like that,” she said.

The crew members on trial, including the captain, Lee Joon-seok, have said they thought it was the coastguard's job to evacuate passengers. Video footage of their escape triggered outrage across South Korea.

As well as leading to significant criticism for the government’s handling of the rescue operation, the Sewol disaster sparked South Korea’s biggest manhunt as authorities searched for Yoo Byung-un, the man at the head of a family business that operated the doomed ferry.

Yoo's badly decomposed body was identified last week after it was found by a farmer at an orchard last month.

Earlier on Monday, a close associate of Yoo, a woman identified by police only by her last name of Kim, was arrested after handing herself in. It was believed she helped him elude police after the disaster.

Another woman, the wife of Yoo's driver who was thought to have been with him during his final days at large, also turned herself in to police. And their arrests came three days after police stormed an apartment on the outskirts of Seoul and found Yoo's elder son, Dae-gyun, who was wanted for embezzlement.

Additional reporting by Reuters

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Ashdown Group: IT Manager - Salesforce / Reports / CRM - North London - NfP

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and reputable Not for Profit o...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger & Credit Control Assistant

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Ledger & Credit Control...

Recruitment Genius: Project Administrator

£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Administrator is requ...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn