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Heartbreaking video shows students as ferry sinks

By Foster Klug and Hyung-Jin Kim

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 11:24 a.m. HST, May 01, 2014

SEOUL, South Korea >> Soon after the ferry began to tilt, there was nervous laughter, jokes about the Titanic and talk of selfies and Facebook posts from the doomed high school students huddled below deck.

But the lighthearted atmosphere soon turned serious as the listing worsened. Fear began building, and one student asked, "Am I really going to die?"

The shaky video (http://apne.ws/R7iRbX ) -- at times poignant and heartbreaking as the teens said last words to their loved ones -- was found on the cellphone belonging to 17-year-old Park Su-hyeon when his body was recovered after the disaster on the morning of April 16 off South Korea.

The boy's father, Park Jong-dae, provided it Thursday to The Associated Press, saying he wanted to show the world the conditions aboard the Sewol as it sank. He earlier released it to select South Korean media. Information such as video can be recovered from micro SD cards in cellphones even if the device is submerged.

More than 300 people are dead or missing in the disaster, which has plunged South Korea into mourning and touched off anger and shame. About 220 bodies, mostly from inside the submerged vessel, have been recovered. More than 80 percent of the victims were students from a high school in Ansan, south of Seoul, on their way to the tourist island of Jeju for a school trip.

The group of teens in Park Su-hyeon's video alternated between bluster, attempts at humor and unmistakable fear.

Only one could be seen wearing a life jacket at the beginning of the clips, which started at 8:52 a.m. and ended, with a small break between them, at 9:09 a.m., when everyone appeared to be wearing them.

Some of the students struggled as they tried to buckle the life jackets. As the listing worsened, they joked about "final commemorative pictures" and "defying gravity" by trying to walk on the walls.

"It's like we're becoming the Titanic," one student said.

At 8:53 a.m., less than two minutes into the video and two minutes before a crew member on the bridge made the ferry's first distress call, one student said: "Am I really going to die?"

At the start the video, a message blared from the ferry's loudspeakers: "Don't move away from your places and brace for any possible accidents."

In subsequent announcements, passengers were again told to stay put, even as some questioned whether they should flee.

The last message from the bridge came at 9:08: "We're again announcing: For passengers who can wear life vests, please wear them now. Never move away from your places."

That warning came eight minutes after a Sewol crew member told a marine traffic official, "The body of the ship has tilted, and it's impossible to move," according to a transcript of communications with the ferry.

After the passengers were ordered to stay in their cabins, Capt. Lee Joon-seok took at least a half-hour to order an evacuation. It is unclear whether that order was ever relayed to passengers. Lee has said he delayed the evacuation because of worries about sending passengers into cold waters and fast currents before rescuers arrived.

Lee could be seen in a separate video released by the coast guard leaping from the ferry in his underwear onto a rescue boat while many passengers were still in the sinking ship.

He and 14 other crew members responsible for the ferry's navigation have been detained on suspicion of negligence and abandoning people in need. Prosecutors are investigating whether stability issues related to too much cargo or a redesign that added more cabins to the ship contributed to the sinking.

As Park Su-hyeon's video continued, students asked whether the ship will sink and where their teachers are. "What's the captain doing?"

After the students talked about being on the news and posting about the excitement later on Facebook, the fear in the cabin grew. Some said they felt dizzy, that their legs were shaking. One student was seen walking with his hands braced against the wall for balance as the vessel continued listing, making it increasingly difficult to move.

"I'm really scared," a student said.

"Is it really sinking?" another asked. "Wow, they're giving us life vests."

"I'm getting out of here," one said. "Me too, me too," says another.

A student says: "We have to survive now."

At one point, the teens were heard offering their last words to their relatives. Some warned their siblings not to take school trips unless they wanted to end up like them.

"We're all finished. I have to leave some farewell words before I die," one student said.

"Mom, I love you," another said.

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Morimoto wrote:
Are these cellphones being recovered from the bodies that have been underwater for days? If so how are these phones still working? This is a situation where I believe the strict Korean culture of obeying authorities and elders was detrimental and cost many lives. Logical thinking would tell you to abandon a listing ship,especially if you're on the inside and can't escape quickly. I'm not saying this wouldn't happen in any other culture but maybe the death toll wouldn't be so high.
on May 1,2014 | 09:52AM
sayer wrote:
The sad part is if the authority had given them proper instructions, it wouldn't have been a problem that they listened to the authority. I read an article from another ferry expert who said when something like this happens, it's inconceivable why the captain wouldn't have all the students go the deck in case of capsizing.
on May 1,2014 | 11:03AM
sailfish1 wrote:
Easy to be accurate after the fact (hindsight). Not knowing what the ship looks like, it's possible that many people on deck would have fallen into the sea due to the listing. Then, if the crew managed to right the ship, people would be saying that the crew should have instructed the passengers to stay in their cabins. Maybe the proper instruction would have been to instruct passengers to stay one level below the deck and be prepared to quickly move up. The captain, of course, should have been with the passengers at that point.
on May 1,2014 | 11:54AM
Morimoto wrote:
Well my point is that while the authority figure on the ship (captain) should have gave proper instructions, you can't just blindly follow authority all the time. Sometimes you have to think for yourself. One man's error shouldn't result in the death of hundreds, especially when the hundreds had the full capacity to decide for themselves what to do.
on May 1,2014 | 12:02PM
false wrote:
I think if I was onboard and heard announcements to stay in your cabin I would have stayed at first. I would not be using a cellphone however for any reason as staying in the moment and keeping your hands free seems like common sense to me. Everyone walks around looking at a phone these days and these kids may have not seen what was happening until it was to late.
on May 1,2014 | 10:05AM
gmejk wrote:
I agree. We're becoming a society of slaves to electronic devices. I can't say we're better off for it either.
on May 1,2014 | 06:27PM
HOSSANA wrote:
This is a tragedy that shouldn't have happened and I feel, really feel sorry for the families of the victims...most of the victims were in their teens and never had a chance to live life and to die in those conditions just makes me feel sick. There is no excuse, no excuse for the captain and the crew to have abandoned the ship leaving the passengers to fend for themselves. It was a cowardly act and he and the crew's actions are unexcusable that are certainly criminal and they should be incarcerated for the remainder of their lives so they can have the memories of these victims haunt them till the day they die in prison. Sorry if I sound hard core on my indictment of the captain and the crew that abandoned the ship but they deserve every imaginable punishment possible. Nothing more and nothing less.
on May 1,2014 | 10:47AM
awahana wrote:
They were too young to know what happened at WTC on 9/11.
There too, they said to go back to your office, and stay there.
There are benefits to being old, and learning from history, and to know and remember the past mistakes of authorities in charge.
on May 1,2014 | 11:30AM
Morimoto wrote:
True, but you also have to remember the culture there is a lot different than here. Confucian culture places a much greater emphasis on following authority and elders. Too much emphasis IMO.
on May 1,2014 | 12:06PM
Hawaii5OhOh wrote:
What strikes me about hearing this was the absence of an adult voice in the group. Where were the adult chaperones for such a large group of students travelling together? I think an adult chaperone would not have listened to the stupid orders to stay put and die. On other videos that were taken inside the sinking ferry, there was a room with many large glass windows and several students trapped. On one side of tilted room, the students are huddled together, while other students press themselves against the windows as the ferry continues to sink deeper and the tilt gets steeper. Why didn't someone inside the sinking ship find a fire extinguisher, a fire ax, or a fire hose and break the windows to get out? As the ship went down, why didn't the Coast Guard use tools to break the windows, or at least ram their boats against the windows to shatter it and save those students trapped behind them?
on May 1,2014 | 04:37PM
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