Ferry sinks off South Korea coast on Wednesday, April16. 2014Dozens of rescue boats and helicopters scrambled Wednesday to save more than 470 people, including many high school students, after a ferry sank off South Korea's southern coast, officials said. At least two people died and 14 were said to have been injured, foxnews reports.
The ferry with 476 people including 325 high school students was sailing to the southern island of Jeju when it sent a distress call Wednesday morning as it began leaning to one side, according to Ministry of Security and Public Administration.
The government said about 95 percent of the ship was submerged.
A school official told Reuters that all 338 high school students and teachers aboard the ship had been rescued. Two coast guard officers said that a 27-year-old woman named Park Ji-yeong and another unidentified person had died.
Local media photographs showed the ship heavily tilted onto its side, partially submerged, as helicopters flew overhead and rescue vessels and a small boat covered with an orange tarp floated nearby. Photos showed wet students wrapped in blankets as emergency workers tended to them
"We heard a big thumping sound and the boat stopped," a passenger told the YTN news channel by telephone, The Guardian reported. "The boat is tilting and we have to hold on to something to stay seated."
Park Ji-hee, a first-year student, said she saw about a dozen parents crying at the school entrance and many cars and taxies gathered at the gate as she left in the morning.
She said some students in her classroom began to cry as they saw the news on their handsets. Teachers tried to soothe them, saying that the students on the ship would be fine.
Passenger Kim Seong-mok, speaking from a nearby island after his rescue, told YTN that he was "certain" people were trapped inside the ship as water quickly filled up inside and the severe tilt of the ferry kept them from reaching the exits. Some people yelled at those who couldn't get out, urging them to break windows.
Kim said that after having breakfast he felt the ferry tilt and then heard it crash into something. He said the ferry operator made an announcement asking that passengers wait and not move from their places. Kim said he didn't hear any announcement telling passengers to escape.
The students are from a high school in Ansan city near Seoul and they were on their way to the Jeju island for a four-day trip, according to a relief team set up by Gyeonggi Province, which governs the city. The ship left Incheon port, just west of Seoul, on Tuesday evening, according to the state-run Busan Regional Maritime Affairs & Port Administration.
A total of 16 helicopters, 34 rescue vessels and navy divers were sent to the area, Lee Gyeong-og, a vice minister for South Korea's Public Administration and Security Ministry, told a televised news conference. He said President Park Geun-hye ordered a thorough rescue operation to prevent deaths. He said 14 had been injured so far, including one described as serious, and taken to hospitals.
Later Wednesday, 21 navy and 11 coast guard divers began searching the near-sunken ship for survivors, according to emergency officials.