The ferry was carrying 459 people, of whom 164 have been rescued,
coastguard officials said.
It was not immediately clear why the Sewol ferry listed heavily on
to its side and capsized in apparently calm conditions off South
Korea's southwest coast, but some survivors spoke of what appeared
to be an impact prior to the accident.
"It was fine. Then the ship went 'boom' and there was a noise of
cargo falling," said Cha Eun-ok, who said she was on the deck of the
ferry taking photographs at the time.
"The on-board announcement told people to stay put ... people who
stayed are trapped," she said in Jindo, the nearest town to the
scene of the accident.
Survivors there huddled on the floor of a gymnasium, wrapped in
blankets and receiving medical aid. One woman lay on a bed shaking
uncontrollably. A man across the room wailed loudly as he spoke on
his mobile phone.
Furious relatives of the missing threw water at journalists trying
to speak to survivors and at a local politician who had arrived at
the makeshift clinic.
Most of the passengers on board the ferry appeared to have been
teenagers and their teachers from a high school in Seoul who were on
a field trip to Jeju island, about 100 km (60 miles) south of the
CONFUSION OVER NUMBER MISSING
An official from the Danwon High School in Ansan, a Seoul suburb,
had earlier said all of its 338 students and teachers had been
rescued. But that could not be confirmed by the coastguard or other
officials involved in the rescue.
The school official asked not to be identified.
The Ministry of Security and Public Administration earlier reported
that 368 people had been rescued and that about 100 were missing.
But it later described those figures as a miscalculation, turning
what had at first appeared to be a largely successful rescue
operation into potentially a major disaster.
There was also confusion about the total number of passengers on
board, as authorities revised the figure down from 477, saying some
had been double counted. It added to growing frustration and anger
among families of the passengers.
Witnesses said many people were likely to be trapped inside the
According to a coast guard official in Jindo, the waters where the
ferry capsized have some of the strongest tides of any off South
Korea's coast, meaning divers were prevented from entering the
mostly submerged ship for several hours.
The ferry began to list badly about 20 km (12 miles) off the
southwest coast as it headed for Jeju.
A member of the crew of a local government ship involved in the
rescue, who said he had spoken to members of the sunken ferry's
crew, said the area was free of reefs or rocks and the cause was
likely to be some sort of malfunction on the vessel.
[to top of second column]
There were reports of the ferry having veered off its course, but
coordinates of the site of the accident provided by port authorities
indicated it was not far off the regular shipping lane.
survivors spoke of hearing a "loud impact" before the ship started
listing and rolling on its side.
Within a couple of hours, the Sewol was lying on its port side. Soon
after, it had completely turned over, with only the forward part of
its white and blue hull showing above the water.
Coastguard vessels and fishing boats scrambled to the rescue with
television footage showing rescuers pulling passengers in life vests
out of the water as their boats bobbed beside the ferry's hull.
Other passengers were winched to safety by helicopters.
The ferry left from the port of Incheon, about 30 km (20 miles) west
of Seoul, late on Tuesday.
It sent a distress signal early on Wednesday, the coastguard said,
triggering a rescue operation that involved almost 100 coastguard
and navy vessels and fishing boats, as well as 18 helicopters.
A U.S. navy ship was at the scene to help, the U.S. Seventh Fleet
said, adding it was ready to offer more assistance.
The area of the accident was clear of fog, unlike further north up
the coast, which had been shrouded in heavy fog that led to the
cancellation of many ferry services.
The coastguard said one person was found dead inside the sinking
ferry. An official from the Mokpo Hankook hospital on the mainland
said another person died soon after arriving at its emergency ward.
That person was identified as one of the students on the school
Four people were confirmed dead in total.
The ship has a capacity of about 900 people, an overall length of
146 meters (480 feet) and it weighs 6,586 gross tons. Shipping
records show it was built in Japan in 1994.
In 1993, the Seohae ferry sank, and 292 of the 362 passengers on
(Additional reporting by Ju-Min Park, Choonsik Yoo, Meeyoung Cho and
James Pearson in Seoul; writing by Jack Kim; editing by Robert Birsel and Mike Collett-White)
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