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Wrenching Video Scenes Show S. Korean Students as Ferry Sinks

  • VOA News

Soon after the ferry begins to tilt, nervous laughter can be heard from the high school students huddled below deck. In video clips from the cellphone of a victim of a disaster that has shaken South Korea, the teenagers talk of taking selfies, wonder if they'll make the news and discuss posting on Facebook.

The fear in the cabin builds as the listing becomes worse. Some say they feel dizzy, that their legs are shaking. One student can be seen walking with his hands braced against the wall for balance.

"Am I really going to die?'' a student asks at 8:53 a.m. April 16, less than two minutes into the video and two minutes before a crew member on the bridge made the ferry's first distress call.

Maritime police search for missing passengers in front of the South Korean ferry "Sewol" which sank at the sea off Jindo April 16, 2014. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

Maritime police search for missing passengers in front of the South Korean ferry "Sewol" which sank at the sea off Jindo April 16, 2014. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

The Sewol ferry sank on a routine trip south from the port of Incheon to the traditional holiday island of Jeju. More than 300 people, most of them students and teachers on a field trip from the Danwon High School on the outskirts of Seoul, have died or are missing and presumed dead.

The confirmed death toll from the ferry disaster on Thursday stood at 213 with about 90 people still unaccounted for.

Footage provided by Newstapa, a website run by Korea Center for Investigative Journalism, contains a conversation between students on board describing the moment of sinking.

“The ship is leaning! Yo, help me!''

“It's leaning this way. I can't move.''

“Nonsense. I want to get off. I mean it.''

“Why are you getting your life jacket? You're stupid. We don't want to die. We don't want to die.''

Passengers were directed to hold their positions, not to evacuate.

“Do not move from your current location,'' an unidentified crew member said through loudspeaker.

Some students did not take it seriously and sang a theme song from the movie “Titanic.”

Another student left a last message to parents.

“Please if only I could live. Mom, Dad, I love you.''

The shaky video was on the cellphone of a 17-year-old student, Park Su-hyeon, when rescuers recovered his body. The boy's father provided it Thursday to The Associated Press, saying he wanted to show the world the ship's condition as it sank. Park Jong-dae, the boy's father, earlier released it to select South Korean media.

Only one can be seen wearing a life jacket at the beginning of the video clips, which start at 8:52 a.m. and end, with a small break between them, at 9:09, when everyone appears to be wearing them.

In the video, some of the students struggle to buckle their life jackets. As the ferry lists, they joke about “final commemorative pictures” and “defying gravity” by trying to walk on the walls.

At the beginning of the video, a message blasts from the ship's loudspeakers: “Don't move away from your places and brace for any possible accidents.''

In subsequent announcements, passengers are again told to stay put, even as some students question whether they should flee. The last message from the bridge comes at 9:08: “We're again announcing: For passengers who can wear life vests, please wear them now. Never move away from your places.''

That warning came eight minutes after a Sewol crew member told a marine traffic official, “The body of the ship has tilted, and it's impossible to move,” according to a transcript.

After the bridge ordered passengers to stay in their cabins, Capt. Lee Joon-seok took at least half an hour to order an evacuation. It is unclear whether that order was ever relayed to passengers. Lee has said he delayed evacuation because of worries about sending passengers into cold waters and fast currents before rescuers arrived.

Lee can be seen in a separate video released by the coast guard leaping from the ferry in his underwear onto a rescue boat while many passengers were still in the sinking ship.

The captain and 14 others responsible for the ferry's navigation have been detained on suspicion of negligence and abandoning people in need. Prosecutors are investigating whether stability issues related to too much cargo or a redesign that added more cabins to the ship contributed to the sinking.

Some information for this report provided by Reuters and AP.

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