At least four people are confirmed dead and nearly 300 are missing after a ferry carrying 459 people (mostly high school students) sank off South Korea’s southern coast Wednesday. The ferry, which was on a school trip to the island of Jeju, sent a distress call at about 9 a.m. local time as it started to lean to one side, according to South Korea’s Ministry of Security and Public Administration.
Kang Byung-kyu, a government minister, said that two of the people who died were a male high school student and a female crew member. A third body was also believed to be that of a student, and a coast guard officer confirmed a fourth fatality but there are no immediate details of the identity of that person.
Dozens of helicopters, boats, and divers scrambled to rescue passengers, and the rescue efforts will continue overnight. Officials are saying that mud on the ocean floor has made underwater search operations difficult.
According to an emergency official, things are pretty crucial since the water temperature there was about 55 degrees Fahrenheit, which is cold enough to cause signs of hypothermia after about 90 minutes.
Kim Seong-mok, one passenger that was rescued, said that he thinks many people had been trapped inside the ferry when it sank. Some people were yelling at those who couldn’t escape, urging them to break windows.
Kim said that he felt the ferry tilt after he had breakfast, and then he heard it crash into something. The ferry operator made an announcement, and asked the passengers to stay put and not move. Surprisingly, he didn’t hear any announcement that told the passengers to try and escape.
Yonhap news agency said the 480-foot-long ship was built in Japan in 1994 and could carry 921 people, 180 vehicles, and 152 shipping containers.
There was another deadly ferry disaster in South Korea in 1993 and 292 people died then, according to the Maritime Ministry.