South Korea ferry: Messages from a sinking ship

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Text message graphic
Image caption,
As the ferry sank, some of the students reached out to their parents via text messages

As a South Korean ferry came to a shuddering halt and rapidly began to sink, some of those on board sent harrowing text messages to their loved ones.

With almost 300 people still unaccounted for one day after the accident, reports of desperate text messages from some of those trapped on board have surfaced in local media.

"This might be the last chance to say I love you," one student named as Shin Young-Jin is reported to have texted his mother.

"Why's that," his mother texted back, clearly unaware of the crisis engulfing the vessel. "I love you anyway."

According to the Korea Herald, he was among the 179 people rescued from the ship so far.

'Ship is too tilted'

But other parents who received such messages have not been reunited with their children. Another exchange between one student and her father was recounted by the AFP news agency and local media:

Student: "Dad, don't worry. I'm wearing a life vest and am with other girls. We're inside the ship, still in the hallway."

Father: "I know that the rescue is under way, but shouldn't you be waiting outside the rail? Try to get out if you can."

Student: "The ship is too tilted. The hallway is crowded with so many people."

The student who sent these messages remains unaccounted for.

Image source, Reuters
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Anguished family members have been gathering at the port in Jindo

In another text exchange widely published on South Korean media a student texted his older brother as the ship ran into trouble.

Student: "The ship ran into something and it's not moving. They say the coast guard just arrived."

Brother: "Don't panic. Just do what you are told to do and then you will be fine".

But there was no further communication after that.

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Survivor: "There was an announcement telling us to sit still, but the ferry was already sinking"

Some parents were able to stay in touch with their children on the phone until lines were cut off. Park Yu-Shin, whose daughter is among the missing, told the AFP news agency that she talked to her daughter as she was coping with the emergency.

"She was telling me: 'We're putting on our life vests. They're telling us to wait and stay put, so we're waiting...I can see a helicopter", Ms Park said. Her daughter is still among the missing.

Reports that messages have been received from students still trapped inside the ferry have not been verified.

'I wanted to live'

It is not yet clear what caused the ferry, carrying mainly school students, to sink, but survivors gave similar accounts of a catastrophic event at around 09:00 (00:00 GMT). A picture of the fear and chaos on board has also been vividly drawn.

Image source, AFP
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There were many young people on board the vessel
Image source, Reuters
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Escape was hindered by the severe listing of the ship
Image source, AP
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Anxious relatives of those on board gathered to await news

"There was a really loud noise and then the boat immediately began to shift to one side," said rescued passenger, Kim Song-Muk.

"People were scrambling to get to the upper decks, but it was difficult with the deck slanted over."

Student, Lim Hyung-min, told how he he jumped into the ocean wearing a life jacket with other youngsters 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.

Once he jumped, the ocean "was so cold... I was hurrying, thinking that I wanted to live".

Pictures from the scene showed rescue teams balanced on the sinking hull pulling teenagers from cabin windows as other jumped into the sea as the ship went down.

Tales of heroism

Other survivors have criticised the evacuation procedures.

Passenger Koo Bon-hee, 36, told the Associated Press news agency that many people were trapped inside by windows that were too hard to break. He wanted to escape earlier but an announcement said passengers should stay put.

"The rescue wasn't done well. We were wearing life jackets. We had time,'' Koo, who was on a business trip to Jeju with a co-worker, said from a hospital bed in Mokpo where he was treated for minor injuries.

"If people had jumped into the water ... they could have been rescued. But we were told not to go out."

Another survivor told local television: "The announcement told us that we should stay still, but the ship was already sinking and there were a lot of students who did not get out of the ship."

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Rescue efforts are still under way at the site of the accident

Kim Seong-mok told YTN that he was "certain" 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.

But tales of heroism on board as the vessel began to sink have also emerged.

One crew member, named as 22-year-old Park Ji-young, is said to have lost her life while struggling to make sure passengers on the upper floors of the ferry wore life jackets and found their way out.

"I repeatedly asked her why she did not first wear a life jacket. Park just said she would get out of the ship after making sure that all passengers were out," a survivor told local media.

"Park pushed shocked passengers toward the exit even when the water was up to her chest."

The Korea Herald reports that she joined the ferry company in 2012 to earn money to support her family. When her body arrived at hospital, the paper reports, her mother cried: "I can't believe you left us".