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Investigators: Captain Was Not at Helm of Sunken Ferry

Investigators say the captain of a ferry that capsized off South Korea's southern coast Wednesday was not at the wheel when disaster struck.

Officials said Friday that a junior officer was at the helm when Sewol ferry possibly made a sharp turn and started tilting to the side and sinking.

Coast guard officials say as of midday Friday, 28 people were confirmed dead, although the death toll is expected to rise sharply. Rescuers have fought strong currents and murky waters in their search for 268 people still missing, while 179 passengers have been rescued.

Among the ferry's 475 passengers were 325 students from a high school near Seoul, traveling to a popular resort island for a four-day field trip and sightseeing.

U.S. President Barack Obama has sent his condolences to the families of the victims and said he will pay tribute during a visit to that country next week.



South Korean Minister of Security and Public Administration Kang Byung-kyu said floating cranes will attempt to lift the ferry out of the water, but not until it is determined that nobody remains alive inside.

Families of the missing passengers are furious at the government because of what they say is the slow pace of the rescue effort.

Many of them lashed out in frustration at President Park Geun-hye during an impromptu meeting on the island of Jindo, near the crash site.

Ms. Park tried to reassure the distraught families that authorities are doing everything possible in the search and rescue mission.

The Sewol left the port of Incheon on Tuesday night for Jeju, 100 kilometers off the southwest coast.

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.

Many passengers said they were initially told to stay in their seats and not try to escape, a development that outraged many families of those missing.

The coast guard says it is investigating reports on whether the ship's captain, Lee Joon-seok, was among the first to abandon the vessel.

The ferry captain and Kim Young-bung, the head of the Chonghaejin Marine Company that operated the ship apologized for the disaster.

Heavy fog was reported in the area on Tuesday evening, but it is not known whether that contributed to the sinking.

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