Hundreds feared drowned in ferry disaster in South Korea

South Korean divers resumed searching Thursday for 290 people – many of them teenagers – missing nearly 24 hours.

At least six people are dead and 290 missing after a ferry boat sank off South Korea’s southern coast Wednesday. Authorities initially reported most of the passengers were rescued but quickly backtracked and raised casualty figures dramatically as the scale of the tragedy became clear.

Most of those on board were high school students headed from Incheon to the southern resort island Jeju on a four-day school trip. South Korean authorities initially reported 368 passengers were rescued, including all of the students. But, just minutes later, authorities dropped the estimate dramatically.

south korea ferry disaster

The initial distress signal from the Sewol came at 9.00am on Wednesday, and many survivors were picked up by small commercial vessels that got to the scene ahead of the navy and coastguard. Television footage showed terrified passengers wearing life jackets clambering into inflatable boats that pushed right up to the rails of the listing vessel as it sank.

The US 7th Fleet sent an amphibious assault ship on patrol in the area to help, while White House spokesman Jay Carney said Washington was ready to provide “any assistance” needed.