South Korean divers probing the sunken ferry Sewol have recovered 17 more bodies from the vessel after three days of failed attempts to gain entry. The death toll Sunday stood at 50, with about 250 people unaccounted for. Most of them are high school students.
Hundreds of divers, including civilian volunteers, have battled strong undercurrents and poor visibility to enter the submerged ferry, which went down Wednesday with 476 people on board off the southwestern island of Jindo. The Coast Guard said divers were first able to smash through a ship's window late Saturday to recover the first bodies, in what is expected to be a long and grim recovery operation.
There were only 174 known survivors early Sunday, with no one rescued since Wednesday.
South Korean prosecutors say the 26-year-old third mate left to steer the doomed ferry through a treacherous waterway was navigating the area for the first time when the vessel listed on its side and sank. That disclosure came late Saturday, about 90 hours after the 6,800-ton vessel went down.
Authorities also confirmed Saturday that the ship's captain was in his quarters at the time of the sinking, leaving the inexperienced third mate at the helm.
The captain, the third mate and one other crew member were arrested Saturday on charges of deserting their passengers as the ferry was sinking.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency says the captain is also suspected of instructing passengers to remain seated, even as the ferry began rolling onto its side and blocking escape routes.
Authorities have not established the cause of the disaster, but some survivors report hearing a loud impact noise before the vessel rolled onto its side and began sinking.
A Yonhap report Friday said the inexperienced third mate may have made a sharp turn while piloting the ship at speeds too high for conditions. Investigators were quoted as saying the sudden turn may have caused 180 vehicles and nearly 1,200 tons of freight to shift and causing the vessel to list.
Some information for this report provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.