Problems Hamper Ferry Rescue

Divers Fail to Retrieve Any Bodies from Sunken S. Korean Vessel

Jindo, South Korea — An urgent operation to pull possible survivors from a submerged ferry ran into trouble Thursday, with divers unable to pry their way into the vessel and passengers’ relatives terrified about what the delay might mean.

“My kid is dying out there,” said Christine Kim, whose daughter is among the nearly 300 still unaccounted for.

A series of aborted and failed rescue missions compounded the agony among family members awaiting news on a nearby island and made for a grim waiting game in what is shaping up as one of South Korea’s worst peacetime disasters. As of early evening, no survivors had been pulled from the ferry Thursday, despite more than 500 professional divers and 100 vessels at the scene.

South Korean officials said powerful currents and poor visibility were hampering the rescue in an area known for its bedeviling waters. Aerial footage showed the 6,835-ton Sewol almost entirely submerged in the Yellow Sea — only its blue bow was sticking out — as whitecaps washed over its hull.

Kang Byung-kyu, a minister for security and public administration, said during a news briefing that the currents and murky water posed “tremendous obstacles.”

After 1 p.m., the diving operation was put on hold, Yonhap said.

Some 36 hours after the ferry began to list, South Korean officials say nine people were confirmed dead, 179 had been rescued and 287 were missing. But Seoul has provided conflicting figures at various points in the search while drawing growing criticism for its response. South Korean media is reporting that 14 people are dead and 282 people are missing.

Police say they’ve checked cellphone records of missing passengers and determined that none has made calls or sent texts after the ferry sank.

Among the 475 on board, 325 were students from a high school in Ansan, just south of Seoul. The vessel departed from Incheon, a major port, and was bound for Jeju — a popular southern island — in what would have been a 13-hour 30-minute journey. Survivors say the ferry was jolted by a loud noise when it was about three hours from its destination. It then began to tilt to one side. And within two hours, it was upside-down and submerged.