Those who stayed put got trapped
A SOUTH Korean ferry loaded with schoolchildren and going by the evocative name of Sewol - or "time and tide" in Korean - sank yesterday, with scores of casualties.
Many were trapped as they followed instructions to sit still while the ferry sank - until it was too late for them to escape.
The vessel was carrying 324 students and 14 teachers from a high school on a field trip to Jeju Island, which lies some 100km south of the Korean peninsula. A total of 459 people were on board when it left Incheon yesterday morning.
By evening, about 290 were still unaccounted for.
"It was fine, then the ship went 'boom' and there was noise of cargo falling," said Ms Cha Eun Ok, who was on the deck of the ferry taking photographs when disaster struck the vessel.
"The on-board announcement told people to stay put... people who stayed were trapped," she said in Jindo, the nearest town from the scene of the accident.
The alarm was sounded at 8.58am, local time, after some passengers reported hearing a loud impact. Then, the confusion began.
The vessel began listing badly and, within 30 minutes, the first of the rescue workers had arrived near the sinking ship. Soon, more than 100 vessels and 31 helicopters were trying to pull the passengers to safety.
On board the sinking ship, passengers were divided between those that followed instructions to wait for the rescuers and those that jumped.
As word went round that the vessel was about to sink completely, some passengers threw themselves into the water. They were the lucky ones.
"Luckily, I was able to jump, like many others," said Im Hyeong Min, a student.
Another student broke down in tears as he spoke about his friends, who had been inside their cabins before the ship sank.
Another passenger said: "When the ship was turning on its side, none of us were moving. We were told not to as it was dangerous.
"I was told that my friends could not escape as the passage was blocked by water."
Television footage showed rescuers pulling passengers in life vests out of the water as their boats bobbed beside the ferry's hull. Other passengers were winched to safety by helicopters.
"A search was conducted within a 5km radius, but no recoveries were made. Considering the water temperature, depth and the time lapse, anyone trapped inside is unlikely to have survived," a rescue worker told a local news network.
The depth of the sea where the ship sank is reported to be over 45m, and the water temperature is reported to be about 12 deg C.
It took around two hours for the vessel to sink.
The ship had left two hours late on a journey that would take 14 hours and there were suggestions that it may have veered off its route to make up for lost time.
While fog had delayed its departure, the skies were clear in the area where it sank. The place was also said to be free of reefs. AGENCIES