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
Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
News
General Election
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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: Office Administrator

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Administrator is requ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - Commercial Vehicles - OTE £40,000

£12000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion and growth of ...

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - Sheffield - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer position with a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Leader - Plasma Processing

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Operations Leader is required to join a lea...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders