NPR Story
2:22 pm
Wed April 23, 2014

South Korean Ferry Disaster: One Survivor's Story

More than 150 bodies have now been recovered from the wreck of a ferry that sank off the South Korean coast last week. There are nearly 150 people still missing.

BBC correspondent Lucy Williamson went to the holiday island of Jeju to meet a survivor.

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Transcript

ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:

It's HERE AND NOW.

More than 150 bodies have now been recovered from that submerged ferry off the South Korean coast. As you know, many of the dead, high schoolers on their way to the holiday island of Jeju when the ship listed sharply and sank. Almost an entire graduating class is gone. The captain and several crew members are now in custody. BBC correspondent Lucy Williamson went to Jeju to meet a survivor.

LUCY WILLIAMSON: At Jeju Harbor today, ferries unloaded their meager passengers, just a handful of them on one ship. This holiday island, with its beaches and volcanoes, was where the Sewol's journey was meant to end, a treat for teenagers before their final school year. They never saw it. Just before 9:00 AM last Wednesday, traffic controllers here picked up their boat's distress call.

Workers at the ferry company here on shore were rushed into the office, but there was little they could do. One of them who was here that day told me he can't even walk down the street now without people blaming him. His colleagues onboard, he says, should've done more.

At the hospital, we find Eun-su Choi, a truck driver who was onboard the ship. He'd made that journey hundreds of times. At 9 o'clock that morning, he just had breakfast and gone up on the deck for a smoke.

EUN-SU CHOI: (Through Translator) All of a sudden, the ship tilted and started to sink. Containers started to fall off into the sea, and I realized we were going to capsize. I was clinging onto the handrail.

WILLIAMSON: As the ship listed further, he and a friend tried to save some of the students stuck inside.

CHOI: (Through Translator) I tried to save some of the student in the cafeteria. They were sliding on their knees around the cashier's desk. I threw them a fire hose, but the boat was tilting too much. And then the water started coming in. My friend managed to save a six-year-old child who was trapped inside. I think the parents and others inside were the heroes. They were passing the child to each other over their heads. By the time my friend was holding her, the ship was capsizing, and all those people were swept away in the water. That's the most painful memory I have. Those students and those parents were the bravest people of all.

WILLIAMSON: Just across the water in Jindo, recovery teams are now bringing in the bodies. No miracles here now, just the joyless reunions of families with their dead.

YOUNG: The BBC's Lucy Williamson reporting from Jeju, South Korea. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.