Ferry Toll Hits 87 as Tragic Story Takes Shape

Inexperienced crewmember in charge of steering
By Matt Cantor,  Newser User
Posted Apr 21, 2014 10:30 AM CDT

(Newser) – At least 87 people have died in South Korea's ferry disaster, leaving 215 still missing; the tragedy has prompted South Korean president to call the actions of the captain and some of the crew "akin to murder," CNN reports. The crew "told the passengers to stay put, but they themselves became the first to escape, after deserting the passengers," Park said. "Legally and ethically, this is an unimaginable act." Four more crew members have been detained in the incident, Fox News reports. Meanwhile, a transcript is revealing a more complete story of the tragedy:

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  • Half an hour after the ship sent out a distress call, emergency personnel radioed that the Coast Guard would be on the scene "in 15 minutes" and the crew should ensure passengers were wearing life jackets, the New York Times reports. "If our passengers evacuate, will they be immediately rescued?" the ship replied. "Let them float even with life rings. Hurry!" dispatchers said. But they added that the "final decision" on evacuation was the captain's.
  • It remains unclear what caused the disaster, but the final steering shift went to a 26-year-old shipmate who'd never taken on the dangerous path before. Park Han-gyeol had only been with the company for six months. Another potential problem: Some of the cargo had apparently come loose, said a helmsman.
  • That helmsman, Oh Yong-seok, 58, headed to the pilothouse after being awakened at 8:48am when he was thrown into a wall by the tilting ship. "The ship was already listing so heavily everyone was hanging onto whatever they could grab," he said.
  • As for the question of evacuation, a communications officer says he didn't receive orders to tell passengers to leave; a crew member says the order was given, but he never heard it broadcast to those on board, the Times reports. One announcement, however, told passengers to stay in place. "I didn’t have time to look at the manual but I thought I should calm people down first," he said.
Click for more on the back-and-forth between dispatchers and the ferry's crew. (Read more South Korea stories.)

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