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Acts of bravery emerge from pilloried ship crew


MOKPO, South Korea (AP) -- As the ferry sank, some crew members gave their lifejackets to passengers. One refused to leave until she shepherded students off the ship, and was later found dead. Others worked from rescue boats to break windows with hammers and pull people trapped in cabins to safety.

Nearly a week after the sinking of the South Korean ferry, with rising outrage over a death count that could eventually top 300, the public verdict against the crew of the Sewol has been savage and quick. "Cowards!" social media users howled. "Unforgivable, murderous," President Park Geun-hye said Monday of the captain and some crew.

Some fled the ferry, including the captain, but not all. At least seven of the 29 crew members are missing or dead, and several of those who survived stayed on or near the ship to help passengers.

"His last words were, `I'm on my way to save the kids,'" Ahn So-hyun told reporters of what her husband, missing crew member Yang Dae-hong, told her by cellphone as the ship began to sink Wednesday. He was referring to the 323 high school students on the ferry, which was carrying a total of 476 people.

More than 100 people are confirmed dead and nearly 200 more are still missing. Relatives, as well as many other South Koreans, are enraged, lashing out at what they see as a botched rescue operation and, most vehemently, at the captain. He and two crew members have been arrested, accused of negligence and abandoning people in need. Six other crew members have been detained - two of them on Tuesday - though prosecutors have yet to obtain arrest warrants for them.

Captain Lee Joon-seok told passengers to stay in their cabins as the ferry listed and filled with water, then took at least half an hour to order an evacuation and apparently escaped on one of the first rescue boats.

But passengers recall moments of quiet bravery from the crew.

Passenger Koo Bon-hee, 36, told The Associated Press that there were not enough life jackets for everyone in the area on the third floor where he and others waited. So crew members - two men and two women - didn't wear any so that all the passengers could have one.

One of the first bodies recovered after the ferry sank was 22-year-old crew member Park Ji-young, who helped students evacuate until the last minute, even though she wasn't wearing a life vest, South Korean media reported. Witnesses told Yonhap news agency that she told students that crew members must stay on the ship until everyone else leaves, and that she would follow them after helping passengers.

Crew members describe a rending dilemma as the ship went down. The late evacuation order meant that by the time the crew got off the bridge, the tilt of the ship was so great they could barely walk, let alone rescue passengers. Should they flee the sinking ship or risk their lives to save others trapped below?

Oh Yong-seok, a 57-year-old helmsman, said he and four crew members worked from nearby boats to smash windows on the sinking ferry, dragging six passengers stuck in cabins to safety.

Oh said that a first mate - who is detained - used his knowledge of the ship's layout to help direct rescuers as they worked to pull passengers off onto rescue boats. He said he and his colleagues remained at sea trying to help until an official who appeared to be from the coast guard asked them to head to land.

His eyes welling with tears, Oh said it breaks his heart to watch news of rescue attempts from a hospital room, where he's being treated for an injury to his foot. He's tormented over the likely deaths of children who are about the same age as his own.

"We did hard work, but no media are talking about that," he said. "Instead, they say all crew members fled."

Yang, the missing crew member, was dedicated to his job, said friend Lee Joung-hwa, a celebrity manager who met Yang six years ago on the ferry during an event she had organized there.

"He was the type of guy who cared for the customers of the ferries from the moment they stepped on board," Lee said in an interview at the gymnasium in Jindo. She traveled there out of concern for her friend.

Some crew members said they feel they cannot discuss their efforts to help because the public is so enraged.

One crew member under investigation, an engineer, locked himself in a hotel room in Mokpo on Monday after telling fellow crew members that he would kill himself, senior prosecutor Ahn Sang-don said. Police found a rope when they entered the room, but the engineer appeared to be unhurt, Ahn said.

The engineer was among the two crew members detained Tuesday, prosecutor Yang Jung-jin said. He had been held by the coast guard on Monday, but Ahn said then it was for his own safety.

Crew members are also struggling to understand why the captain, who some called kind-hearted, didn't stay on the ship longer or help oversee rescue operations.

Oh said the captain tripped while the ship was listing and crashed into an iron door. Oh said he thought Lee might have left the ferry when he did because he was badly injured. He was surprised then to see in television footage that the captain was walking without much problem.

"The captain should have stayed there," Oh said, "even if it meant his death."


Klug wrote from Seoul. Associated Press writers Jung-yoon Choi in Seoul, Gillian Wong in Jindo, South Korea, and Hyung-jin Kim in Mokpo, South Korea, contributed to this report.

Join the discussion

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trisanna April 22 2014 at 9:34 PM

Can not believe the CAptain actually left the ship. Is this really true??

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Madeline April 22 2014 at 8:22 PM

I don't think I've seen anything on here to mention that the water was 42 degrees. I think it was mentioned that that was why the captain was reluctant to have passengers abandon ship until he was sure help was quickly on the way. That in no way excuses his jumping off as soon as he saw a rescue boat, but it does make you wonder how many would have survived anyway in water that cold.

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2 replies
Gayle Madeline April 22 2014 at 8:35 PM

He shouldn't have asked if he ordered evacuation would they be rescued he should have yelled may day may day and made it clear they were in a bad situation.

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3 replies
Mike Barder Madeline April 22 2014 at 8:37 PM

The problem was that he told them to stay below. That's what sealed their fate. Had everyone been told to come on deck they would have had a fighting chance.

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usci1 April 22 2014 at 7:54 PM

The company that refloated the Concordia should be brought in to raise the ferry asap.

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1 reply
atvtraining usci1 April 22 2014 at 8:44 PM

there were cranes on site the 3 day but they wont lift it till everyone is dead. stupid a hols, their waiting for permission from all of the parents,
mean while there are people alive down there, when they bring it up they will find dry bodies in the bottom of the ship. suffocated.

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vtmilitia April 22 2014 at 7:48 PM

What would Captain Smith do?

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Mike April 22 2014 at 2:54 PM

When was the last time a captain or crew actually went down with their ship?

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4 replies
minutemaus April 22 2014 at 2:54 PM

"The captain goes down with the ship" does not, apparently, apply to those who captain ferries.

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pets0my2000 April 22 2014 at 3:01 PM

So heart breaking for all... I hate these school trips.

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1 reply
Janice Kendrick pets0my2000 April 22 2014 at 3:15 PM

Heart breaking for sure!..The agony of memories tapping you out every second of every minute of every day!

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1 reply
jmefox Janice Kendrick April 22 2014 at 3:55 PM

I was taught to pray over the news when on tv or radio or news paper.

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Debbie April 22 2014 at 7:31 PM

This is a terriable accident that pobably couldn't turn out better than what it did...but thank God for those that stayed on the boat to help those kids that they could of...my heart goes out to all the families that have lost ones...kids, adults and also the employees.

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1 reply
Intense Insanity Debbie April 22 2014 at 8:43 PM

I dunno if I'd thank god or not that people that might could have gotten off otherwise, stayed behind ... (kids or adults) ... because by doing so surely led to their demise.

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alfredjsenior April 22 2014 at 7:26 PM

A lack of integrity at the core of the Captain's being and trying to hang on to the fantasy that he could somehow do something to avoid shame for what he immediately knew was a catastrophic situation was what led to the deaths of so many folks.

It is better for the Captain of a ship to unwaveringly carry the heavy responsibilities of so many lives without respite than it is to have a "kind hearted" nature.

It is infinitely better for the Captain of a ship to have a core integrity that would unwaveringly compel that Captain to instantly do the right thing when a mistake is made regardless of his personal consequences, than to have a Captain without such core integrity, who would be tempted to take ineffective actions, which would temporarily lull folks into a false sense of safety, while he tried to figure a way out of the catastrophe, that he knew his actions had set in motion.

God Bless the publicly vilified heroes and all the broken hearts. May they eventually be granted justice and comfort. God Bless all those, who lost their lives and so many far too soon.

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luvlyangel51 April 22 2014 at 3:06 PM

When u are the captain of a ship or driver of a bus or pilot of a plane..your duty is to your passengers..they are putting their lives in your hands..it is the same with this captain and crew..those who fled are nothing but cowards..and should be punished severely..those who stayed and helped should be called heroes..esp those who gave their lives to help the others...i can understand the outrage of the family members..and i pray that they do find all the bodies..for closure..this is such a tragedy..and to happen so soon after the missing plane

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