At least 2 people are dead and many are still missing after a ferry carrying more than 470 people, most of them school children, sank off South Korea’s southern coast Wednesday, leading to a massive rescue operation involving 34 naval, coastguard and civilian ships, and 18 helicopters.
Two coast guard officers reportedly said that a 27-year-old woman named Park Ji-yeong and another unidentified male student had died. South Korean officials reportedly said that 368 passengers had been rescued so far, adding that the rescue operation was still underway, but no further details were revealed. The ferry, identified as the Sewol, which was reportedly owned and operated by privately-held Chonghaejin Marine Co., was carrying the passengers and 150 vehicles to Jeju island, about 60 miles south of the Korean peninsula.
There also was some confusion regarding the exact number of people on board the ferry and the number of missing people with reports citing different numbers. According to a Reuters report, the ferry was carrying 475 people, while a Los Angeles Times report said that there were 477 people on board the ferry and 295 people were missing.
"As the ferry was shaking and tilting, we all tripped and bumped into each another," Lim Hyung-min, a student, told YTN, a local news network, after being rescued, according to USA Today, adding that some people were bleeding. The water "was so cold. … I was hurrying, thinking that I wanted to live," Lim said.
Officials reportedly said that about 95 percent of the ship was submerged in water but could not confirm the cause of the sinking. While some reports stated that the weather in the area at the time of the incident was clear, a witness reportedly told YTN that there had been a "loud impact and noise" before the ship started sinking.
Lee Gyeong-og, vice minister for South Korea's Public Administration and Security Ministry, reportedly said in a televised news conference, that President Park Geun-hye has ordered a thorough rescue operation to prevent further deaths. Lee also said that 14 people so far were reported to be injured, including one described to be in serious condition, and had been taken to nearby hospitals.
The ferry, which was carrying 324 students and 14 teachers from Danwon High School in Ansan, a suburb in the capital Seoul, for a four-day trip, measured 480 feet in length and weighed 6,586 gross tons, and was reportedly built in Japan in 1994.