More than 280 people, most of them students, remained unaccounted for Wednesday night as coast guard and navy divers continued to search a ferry that sank hours earlier off the southwestern tip of South Korea.
By nightfall, four people were confirmed dead, including a high school student and a member of the ferry’s crew. But fears that the sinking could become one of the worst peacetime disasters in the country increased as rescued passengers told news outlets that they believed that many people had been trapped below deck after those aboard heard a loud noise and the ship began sinking rapidly.
Some rescued passengers who had been below deck told reporters that even while the ship was tilting, they were told to stay in their seats.
“We must not give up,” President Park Geun-hye said from the headquarters of the Ministry of Security and Public Administration, which is coordinating the rescue efforts. “We must do our best to rescue even one of those passengers and students who may not have escaped from the ship.”
… Among the passengers were 325 students from Danwon High School in Ansan, south of Seoul. So far, 75 of them are known to have been rescued. The students were on an overnight voyage to Jeju, a popular resort island, where they had been scheduled to arrive Wednesday morning for a four-day field trip and sightseeing.
The ministry reported that a total of 174 passengers and crew members were known to have been rescued; given the known deaths, that left 284 of the 462 people on the ferry unaccounted for. Earlier in the day, the ministry had issued different figures, including a much lower estimate for the number of missing; it attributed the mistakes to confusing reports from the scene.