Ferry sinking: 'I am sorry,' captain says as 287 still missing - KMOV.com

Ferry sinking: 'I am sorry,' captain says as 287 still missing

Jindo, South Korea (CNN) -- There were 46 lifeboats attached to the South Korean ferry that sank in frigid waters, but only one lifeboat was deployed, CNN affiliate YTN reported Thursday.

CNN has not been able to independently confirm the report. But if true, it will fuel the anger of families still waiting to hear the fate of 287 passengers still missing at sea.

Video obtained by affiliate JTBC showed at least 12 of the white survival capsules still attached to the ferry, even as it was keeled over in the water. The survival capsules hold the lifeboats.

Click here to view photos of the scene

More than 24 hours have passed since the 6,800-ton ferry sank Wednesday morning.

Nine people are dead. At least 179 have been rescued.

But no one knows whether the missing 287 are alive, perhaps on the ship, or if they succumbed to water that's about 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit.)

The captain of the ferry broke down in tears when asked if he had anything to say to the missing passengers' families.

"I am sorry, I am at a loss for words," captain Lee Joon Suk said, his head and face covered. Lee faces possible charges of negligence and accidental homicide.

No one knows exactly why the ship sank.

Some analysts said the five-story ferry might have veered off course -- speculation that South Korean Oceans and Fisheries Ministry quashed Thursday.

The agency had approved the ferry's intended route, and "there was no huge difference between their plan and the actual track chart," spokesman Nam Jae Heon said.

The massive rescue efforts has included 169 boats, 29 planes and 512 divers. Crews were trying to move a crane to stabilize the ship.

But relentless rain, whipping winds and thick fog stymied rescue efforts Thursday. Three of the 22 volunteer divers who joined the search went missing in high tide but were later found, YTN said.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye visited families at the scene and urged rescue workers press on.

"Since there is the possibility of survivors, we cannot waste any time," she said.

Anguish and impatience

At the Paeng Mok Harbor in Jindo, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the site of the accident, family members pass the hours staring at the water.

They have camped out here since Wednesday. Relatives huddled in gray ponchos, crying and comforting one another. Some checked their cell phones constantly, hoping to see a new text message from their missing loved one.


Others vented their anger over the pace of the progress, throwing chairs in frustration.

Chang Min, whose second-grade son is missing, said he was livid that search officials are using the word "investigation" and not the word "rescue."

"If the government cares for the people, our family, our children, please rescue our families and our children," he said.

But at least one parent blamed herself.

Christine Kim's daughter didn't want to go on her school's field trip to the resort island of Jeju. After all, she had just visited the island two months ago.

But Kim urged her to go.

"I told her, 'I think this trip will be (a) very great experience for you,' " the mother said.

Now, she's wracked with guilt as she waits at the dreary harbor. She's been sitting in the cold rain for more than a day.

"How can I sleep when my daughter is in the cold ocean?"

Some parents took a boat toward the accident site, YTN said. But the boat turned back after several of them became so distraught that they fainted.

Hope for survival

Police are working under the assumption there are still survivors inside the sunken ferry and will work around the clock, the chief of the Yellow Sea Maritime Police Agency said Thursday.

The hope for survivors largely hinges on whether trapped passengers are in isolated pockets of air on the ship.

"From the images that I've seen, there's clearly some areas of the hull that are above the water, that are not flooded," Mike Dean, the U.S. Navy deputy director for salvage and diving, told "CNN Tonight."

"So absolutely, there could be areas in there where there is breathable air, but the trouble right now is the temperature and getting people to them."

Most of the bedrooms of the 353 passengers were on the fourth level of the five-floor boat.

The ship ran into trouble just before 9 a.m. Wednesday (8 p.m. Tuesday ET), about 12 miles from the island of Jindo. More than 300 of the 475 people on the ferry were high school students headed to Jeju.

Student Lim Hyung Min, who was rescued, told YTN he heard a bang before the ship began to list.

"The students were falling over and crashing into things and bleeding," Lim said.

Passengers faced a terrifying choice as the vessel started sinking: obey commands barked over loudspeakers to stay in place, or grab life vests and jump into the chilly ocean water.

"Don't move," a voice warned, according to a recording obtained by CNN affiliate YTN. "If you move, it's dangerous. Don't move."

That announcement, some said, may have cost some passengers on the ferry their lives.

"I think the instruction for those people to remain in place and not get on lifeboats was terribly, tragically wrong," said Mary Schiavo, a former inspector general for the U.S. Department of Transportation.

But Kim Petersen, governor emeritus of the Maritime Security Council, said the orders may have been well-intended.

"The master of the ship, the captain, may well have determined that the vessel was going to remain level and might sink at a steady rate that would allow for the safe exit of people off of the vessel using life rafts, for example, and that would be the preferred way to go," he said.

Explanations elusive

Foggy weather had delayed the departure from Incheon about two hours.

Retired Capt. Jim Staples told CNN's "AC 360" that the ship's captain may have increased speed to remain on schedule.

Schiavo says she thinks the ship could have hit something.

The ship's operator, Chonghaejin Marine Corp., had no explanation -- only apologies.

"We deeply apologize to the families, and I'm saying once again we're really sorry," Chonghaejin executive Kim Young-bung said.

"Our company will promise that we will do our best not to lose any more lives."

The president of the company tried to venture out to the sunken ferry but was hospitalized after collapsing from shock on the way.

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