World

South Korean ferry: 'I think I'm going to die,' student told grandmother in phone call

Park Ji Yoon had not wanted to go on her high school's trip to the South Korean resort island of Jeju. She hated riding on ferries.

When she called the grandmother who had raised her, more than 12 hours after the ferry had departed with her and more than 300 classmates on it, the girl's voice was shaking.

Aerial footage shows dangerous ferry rescues

South Korean Coast Guard video shows the capsized ferry off South Korea and members of the country's coast guard rescuing survivors. Hundreds of people are still missing.

The two had spoken 90 minutes earlier, said Kim Ok Young, 74. Ji Yoon said then that the ferry had not yet reached Jeju.

This call was different. The ship was sinking, Ji Yoon said.

Disastrous excursion ... A mother weeps as she and others search for their children's names among a list of survivors ...
Disastrous excursion ... A mother weeps as she and others search for their children's names among a list of survivors rescued from a ferry that sank off the South Korea's southern coast, at Danwon high school in Ansan.  Photo: AP

"Grandma, I think I'm going to die," she said. "The ship is sinking and I'm holding onto the rail."

Then the phone disconnected.

Kim reached her granddaughter one more time, she said, as she waited at the auditorium of Danwon High School in Ansan for word.

In that call, Ji Yoon said only "I have to go," then the phone cut off. At 10.09 am, she sent a text with a single Korean character, one that conveyed no meaning. Since then, nothing.

A maritime police helicopter rescues passengers who were on-board South Korean ferry "Sewol", which capsized off Jindo.
A maritime police helicopter rescues passengers who were on-board South Korean ferry "Sewol", which capsized off Jindo. Photo: Reuters

A list of names was posted on a large whiteboard at the school. Those who were accounted for were highlighted with a coloured marker. Ji Yoon's name wasn't.

"Two days before she was heading off on this trip, she told us that she didn't want to go because she didn't want to travel on a ferry," Kim said. She had raised the girl because Ji Yoon's parents worked. "We told her that she would regret it if she didn't go. Now we regret it. We shouldn't have made her go."

Parents wait for a bus to meet with their children rescued from a ferry that sank off the country's southern coast, at ...
Parents wait for a bus to meet with their children rescued from a ferry that sank off the country's southern coast, at Danwon high school in Ansan, South Korea. Photo: AP

Of the 462 on board the ferry, 280 are missing, the South Korean government said, with six confirmed dead. The ferry sank en route to Jeju; local media including YTN TV reported it had sailed into rocks in foggy conditions. Of the 325 students, in their penultimate year of high school, and 14 teachers, about 80 were accounted for by late afternoon, the notice at the school showed.

On the fourth floor of the school, crowds of relatives and friends of those on the ferry clustered in the auditorium. Several expressed anger at the school and the government for the lack of information. Televised news of the disaster played on a large screen overhead.

The Republic of Korea Coast Guard search for survivors as the ferry "Sewol" sinks off the coast of Jindo Island, South Korea.
The Republic of Korea Coast Guard search for survivors as the ferry "Sewol" sinks off the coast of Jindo Island, South Korea. Photo: Getty Images

One parent tore a piece off the list of names, prompting school officials to remove the board and replace it with a list of those who were hospitalised.

Students from other schools, the same age as those missing, crowded into the auditorium to await news. They placed post-it notes on the desks of their friends.

A relative weeps as she waits for missing passengers of a sunken ferry at Jindo port.
A relative weeps as she waits for missing passengers of a sunken ferry at Jindo port. Photo: Getty Images

As the day drew to an end, many of the waiting parents left to make the six-hour bus ride to Jindo, the closest land point to the site of the sunken ferry. One uncle, Park Yong Woo, 48, said his nephew, Kim Soo Bin, was on one of the rescued lists. His parents were in Jindo but had not found Soo Bin yet, he said.

"We can't trust the list and statements from the school or the government until we see him face to face," he said. "Different departments are releasing different names and information. Soo Bin's parents were crying when I spoke to them on the phone because they haven't yet found him in Jindo."

A woman cries after finding her son's name posted on a list of survivors.
A woman cries after finding her son's name posted on a list of survivors. Photo: Reuters

Park Ji Yoon's parents also went to Jindo, her grandmother said. They took dry clothes for their daughter.

Bloomberg