South Korea ferry: Four dead and almost 300 missing as mass rescue gets underway

Passengers on the Sewol ferry included 325 high school students on a trip

Almost 300 people remain unaccounted for after a ferry carrying 459 passengers, most of them school students, sank in cold waters off South Korea's southern coast, killing at least four and injuring up to 55 in what could be the country's biggest maritime disaster in over 20 years.

The South Korean Coast Guard warned many more are missing than the initial 100 announced, as dozens of boats, helicopters and divers scrambled to rescue passengers.

The Sewol ferry, which had been carrying students from the Danwon high school in Ansan city near Seoul, had been travelling from the north-western port of Incheon to the popular southern tourist island of Jeju for a four day trip when it capsized.

About 325 students and 15 teachers were on board at the time.

"It was fine then the ship went 'boom' and there was a noise of cargo falling," said Cha Eun-ok, who said she was on deck of the ferry taking photographs when the disaster began.

"The on-board announcement told people to stay put ... people who stayed are trapped," she said in Jindo, the nearest town from the scene of the accident.

The Coast Guard said 164 people have been rescued so far. One rescued passenger said he believed many others were trapped inside the ferry when it sank.

South Korea's Ministry of Security and Public Administration had reported that 368 people had been rescued and about 100 were still missing but later said those numbers had been miscalculated.

Emergency officials said at least 30 navy and coastguard divers are searching the ship for survivors. The US Navy has confirmed it will be sending a ship to join the rescue operation.

The US Seventh Fleet said the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard, which has helicopters on board, was on a routine patrol off South Korea's west coast and was on its way to the scene of the accident.

Read more: Until this disaster South Korea's ferry safety record fared well

The Sewol vessel sent a distress call after it began listing three hours from its destination, according to the Ministry of Security and Public Administration. The government said about 95 per cent of the ferry was submerged.

Two coastguard officers said a 27-year-old woman named Park Ji-yeong and another unidentified person had died. Officials gave no further details, including what caused the ferry to sink or the conditions of the other passengers. 

Images showed the ship listing at a severe angle and after it sank. "There was a banging noise then the boat suddenly started sinking," a rescued student was quoted by Yonhap News as saying.

One student, Lim Hyung-min, told broadcaster YTN from a gym on a nearby island that he jumped into the ocean wearing a life jacket with other students 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.

The water temperature in the area was about 12C, cold enough to cause signs of hypothermia after about 90 minutes, according to an emergency official.

Local media ran photos showing the partially submerged ferry listing dramatically as helicopters flew overhead and rescue vessels and a small boat covered with an orange tarpaulin floated nearby.

Passenger Kim Seong-mok, speaking from a nearby island after his rescue, told YTN he was "certain" that many people were trapped inside the ship as water quickly filled up inside and the severe tilt of the ferry kept them from reaching the exits.

Some people yelled at those who could not get out, urging them to break windows.

Helicopters head to aid the 476 passengers and crew aboard the South Korean ferry earlier in the day (AFP/Getty) Helicopters head to aid the 476 passengers and crew aboard the South Korean ferry earlier in the day (AFP/Getty)
Kim said that after having breakfast he felt the ferry tilt and then heard it crash into something. He said the ferry operator made an announcement asking that passengers wait and not move from their places. Kim said he did not hear any announcement telling passengers to escape.

Parents have been waiting anxiously at the Danwon high school for news about the ferry.

At least 87 vessels and 18 aircraft have assisted the stricken ship, Lee Gyeong-og, a vice minister for South Korea's Public Administration and Security Ministry, said.

Fifty-five people have been injured so far, one seriously, and taken to hospital.

Additional reporting by agency

 

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright has won The Apprentice 2014
tvThe Apprentice 2014 final
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor winner Ben Haenow has scored his first Christmas number one
music
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
news
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
tv
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
Extras
indybest
News
peopleLiam Williams posted photo of himself dressed as Wilfried Bony
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
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: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick