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Cries of anguish as South Korea ferry toll reaches 135

JINDO, South Korea (AP) - The confirmed death toll from the South Korean ferry disaster rose to 135 Wednesday, but there were many more bodies left to be retrieved as divers swam through tight, dark rooms and passageways to search for nearly 170 people still missing.

The victims are overwhelmingly students of a single high school in Ansan, near Seoul. More than three-quarters of the 323 students are dead or missing, while nearly two-thirds of the other 153 people on board the ferry Sewol when it sank one week ago survived.

As descriptions of the newly recovered bodies were read over a loudspeaker, relatives rushed over to the main notice board and peered at the details that were being added by an official.

Some relatives cried out and ran from the tent. Others stood red-eyed and shell-shocked.

The number of corpses recovered has risen sharply since the weekend, when divers battling strong currents and low visibility were finally able to enter the submerged vessel.

Twenty-two of the 29 members of the ferry's crew survived, and nine have been arrested or detained in connection with the investigation.

The captain, Lee Joon-seok, and two crew members were arrested Saturday on suspicion of negligence and abandoning people in need. Four other crew members were detained on Monday and arrested Tuesday, prosecutors said. Another two crew members were detained Tuesday.

The four crew members arrested Tuesday talked to reporters after a court hearing, their faces hidden with caps, hooded sweatshirts and masks.

One said they tried to correct the ferry's listing early on but "various devices, such as the balance weight, didn't work. So we reported the distress situation, according to the captain's judgment, and tried to launch the lifeboats, but the ferry was too tilted and we couldn't reach."

The captain has said he waited to issue an evacuation order because the current was strong, the water was cold and passengers could have drifted away before help arrived. But maritime experts said he could have ordered passengers to the deck - where they would have had a greater chance of survival - without telling them to abandon ship.

Emergency task force spokesman Koh Myung-seok said bodies have mostly been found on the third and fourth floors of the ferry, where many passengers seemed to have gathered. Many students were housed in cabins on the fourth floor, near the stern of the ship, Koh said.

Recovered bodies are taken to nearby Jindo island and driven in ambulances to two tents: one for men and boys, the other for women and girls. Families listen quietly outside as an official briefs them, then line up and file in. Only relatives are allowed inside.

For a moment there is silence in the tent where bodies from the ferry disaster are brought for identification. Then the anguished cries begin.

"How do I live without you? How will your mother live without you?" a woman cried out Tuesday.

She was with a woman who emerged from the tent crying and fell into a chair where relatives tried to comfort her. One stood above her and cradled her head in her hands, stroking her face.

"Bring back my daughter!" the woman cried, calling out her child's name in agony. A man rushed over, lifted her on his back and carried her away.

The cause of the disaster is not yet known. Senior prosecutor Ahn Sang-don said investigators are considering factors including wind, ocean currents, freight, modifications made to the ship and the fact that it turned just before it began listing. He said authorities will conduct a simulation and get experts' opinions.

The Ministry of Ocean and Fisheries had released incomplete data on the turn last week a central station did not receive all the signals the Sewol's on-board transponder had sent. It released more complete details on Tuesday with data received by another station, and those show that the ferry spent about three minutes making a roughly 180-degree turn shortly before it began to list.

It remains unclear why the ship turned around. The third mate, who was arrested Saturday, was steering at the time of the accident, in a challenging area where she had not steered before, and the captain said he was not on the bridge at the time.

Shareholders of the Sewol's owner, Chonghaejin Marine Co. Ltd., apologized in a statement that was distributed to reporters outside the office in Incheon, saying they feel "infinite sadness and responsibility."

"We will humbly accept all responsibility for this accident and we will not hesitate to do anything to console the pain of victims and grieving families even a little bit," said the statement from Yu Dae-kyun, Yu Hyuk-gi and others who are de facto owners of Chonghaejin. The company's president had apologized earlier.

In Ansan, funerals were held for more than 10 of the teens Tuesday, and education officials were building a temporary memorial.


Kim reported from Mokpo, South Korea. Associated Press writers Youkyung Lee in Incheon, Kyeongmin Lee in Jindo, Chang Yong-jun in Ansan, and Foster Klug, Jung-yoon Choi and Leon Drouin-Keith in Seoul contributed to this report.

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patijp April 22 2014 at 10:31 PM

I am so sad for the families and loved ones lost in this tragedy. I will keep you and your loved ones in my prayers. I cannot imagine the pain you must be feeling.

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Elizabeth April 23 2014 at 4:20 AM

I cannot imagine how these people can cope with a tragedy of such magnitude.

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mmlowe April 23 2014 at 3:11 AM

This is just too sad. SO Many young lives wiped out at once. The incompetence it maddening.

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1 reply
Kurtcobainskyblueyes mmlowe April 23 2014 at 5:50 AM


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Blessed April 23 2014 at 1:31 AM

And all the while was that one ship sending messages that they were at the ready to save ANY one who went into the water! They were right THERE-begging to help! How did the that person at the message panel who refused to answer the question three times straight, NOT tell the crew about that ship waiting to help? What the heck? If I could cuss right now I would say words I don't think have been invented! This had better not ever happen again. Such a good kind of people; kids raised to be polite, respectful, listen , appreciate, gentle, trusting and they died a living hell of a death. I know that most of the responsible of the crew also perished, but the ones who ducked out at stroke one-LIVE WITH THIS and I hope you live a LONG life! I don't care male or female, age or race or belief or sexual prefrence or money in the bank , WHAT EVER...NO HUMAN BEING should EVER leave anyone behind when a common tragedy is unfolding before their very eyes! If they refuse to go you jolly well flip their butt plate over onto that rescue boat and tell them that their job now is to calm that crowd and send that boat back for more once it's emptied! This did not have to happen. A caring soul can almost hear the cries of fear from the victims and the wails of pain from their Families, in our dreams. Please people, watch out for each other. Please take care of each other as you would want to be cared for. God Bless everyone who has it in their heart to feel for these people.

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3 replies
rich7tj April 23 2014 at 1:12 AM

My prayers are with everyone and we Pray that God will give the Peace that passes all understanding. our love to you all

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Joyce April 23 2014 at 1:04 AM

Everyday the news talks about more bodies that are found and how the poor poor families look to see if it is one of theirs that they have just recovered. This is so gut wrenching beyond belief. I pray so very hard that some kind of solace be it spiritual or whatever consoles these poor families that are undergoing incomprehensible anguish. NO
ONE should ever have to live through a tragedy where so many YOUNG LIVES were lost in such a horrific way!!!! May God bless the lost souls and the mourning families! ��

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Donna April 23 2014 at 12:58 AM

I read this over and over and over in disbelief . Everyone is grieving now and just trying to understand what happened. I had a young girl from South Korea stay with me about ten years ago . She was such a delight and so sweet and respectful. Those darling children are so well brought up they would never have thought of not listening to the captains orders. For a ship this size to capsize I agree with the captain on the list here , it must have been loaded wrong for it to turn over. What does it even matter at this point they will know it all in time. Right now its about the most unimaginable loss families can feel. I feel so helpless there is really no words to comfort them . Its the most heartbreaking thing i have heard since 9/11. Life is difficult but this mountain is hard to even hear . God Bless you all and I pray you will have the strength to get to a better place one day.

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Helene April 23 2014 at 12:39 AM

Yes Planes crash and ships sink...Why arrest the crew??? Really ? The captain wasn't on deck and the 3rd mate was at the wheel. A 25 year old at the wheel. The crew trains for this exact thing don't they? Always be prepared. I realize the water was cold but who tells people to stay in a sinking ship. Get in life boats or jump and stay in large groups together in the water. These were mostly young teens who were raised to listen to their elders. But come on. My heart is so heavy for everyone involved. But the captain made this happen. Shame Shame

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1 reply
Roni Helene April 23 2014 at 1:14 AM

because the cptian left the ship, the captain always goes down with the ship if it comes to that, he neglected the passagers and saved himself

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1 reply
Elizabeth Roni April 23 2014 at 4:26 AM

The captain does not have to go down with the ship, but he does have a legal and moral obligation to remain on board until every person who can be rescued is safe. This one failed miserably.

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Cath's April 23 2014 at 6:04 AM

As descriptions are read over a loud speaker, the families, momentarily feel as tho there is no air, their hearts pounding while at the same time, they pray silently, 'Please, don't let it be my child'. Then the horrific reality overhwhelms them as they look down at the lifeless body that was once so exuberant, innocent and full of life. These families will forever say, 'if only...' long after the shock has subsided. The grief is NEVER gone, simply muted by degrees over the years to come. This has been yet another needless tragedy that has befallen man-kind. One need only to have lost a child to know the grief these people now face. My prayers and heart felt sympathy to the familes.

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dag91689 April 22 2014 at 10:51 PM

Such anguish! I cannot imagine the heart ache these poor people are going through!
Our prayers go out to all!

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