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Tragic video shows students joking on tilting South Korea ferry before it sank

Friday, 2 May 2014 - 2:50pm IST | Place: Seoul | Agency: AFP
  • south-korea-ferry-capsize The South Korean ferry "Sewol", which sank on April 16, 2014. AFP

A mobile phone video of students aboard the South Korean ferry minutes before it capsized and sank shows them laughing and joking about the Titanic as the Sewol began to list.

The initially light-hearted exchanges are rendered all the more poignant by the fact that the video was taken by a 17-year-old student whose body was later recovered from the submerged ferry, along with his mobile phone.

"Hey, rescue me," jokes one male student, while another suggests the video would be "fun to put on Facebook" later. "It's getting like the Titanic," says another as the 6,825-tonne Sewol begins to list further to one side.

The in-built-timer shows the student, Park Su-Hyeon, began recording at 8:52am on April 16, several minutes before the Sewol crew sent out the first distress signal. Eleven minutes later, the students are still in a jovial mood, with one joking that it might be time to "leave my last words", and others debating whether the incident might get on the news. Throughout, a loudspeaker can be heard telling passengers to remain where they are.​

The footage was released to the South Korean media by Park's father, with the footage pixelated to hide the identities of the students.

'Does this mean the boat is sinking?'

The captain and 14 of his crew have been arrested and widely criticised for delaying the evacuation order until the ship was listing so sharply that escape was almost impossible.  The captain argued that he was worried passengers jumping overboard before rescue vessels arrived would have been swept away and drowned.

"What is the captain doing?" asks one of the students on the video.

Of the 476 people on board the Sewol, 325 were students from the same high school on an organised trip to the holiday resort island of Jeju. As of Friday, the number of confirmed dead was 226, with 76 still missing.

Park's video resumes at around 9:06am, by which time the mood has started to shift towards fear and confusion. One student complains his legs are shaking and he feels nauseous, while another responds to the tannoy system telling passengers to don lifejackets"I don't understand. Putting on lifejackets? Does this mean the boat is sinking?" he says.

The footage is likely to fuel public outrage over the disaster, and in particular the behaviour of the captain and crew. A video released by the South Korean coastguard on Monday showed the captain scrambling to safety as hundreds remained trapped inside.

The precise cause of the accident is still under investigation, but experts have suggested a sharp turn may have caused its cargo to shift, and the ferry to list irretrievably to one side before capsizing.

Two officials from the ferry operator, Chonghaejin Marine Co, were paraded before TV cameras on Friday after being questioned for two days over allegations that the Sewol was carrying three times its recommended cargo weight.

Asked if he believed overloading might have caused the accident, one of the officials – his face hooded and wearing a surgical mask – answered: "Yes."

Divers, meanwhile, continued to battle powerful currents and near-zero visibility in their efforts to retrieve the last bodies from the submerged vessel. Recovery workers put a ring of netting around the site days ago, but there are concerns that some of the bodies may have been dragged away from the boat by the currents and will never be found.

One was retrieved Friday by a fishing vessel 4 km away from the recovery site, and another was found 2 km away on Wednesday. The relatives of those still missing are insisting that all the bodies be recovered before efforts begin to raise the sunken ferry.




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