Ferry victims’ bodies found in ‘freeze-frame of panic’
By Associated Press
April 25, 2014 | 12:19pm
JINDO, South Korea — Divers grope their way slowly through the dark corridors and cabins of the sunken Sewol ferry. Bodies appear suddenly, floating by in the murky water, buoyed by life-jackets or the bloat of decomposition, their faces etched with fear or shock.
Some are still locked together in embraces, a freeze-frame of panic as the water rushed in and the ship sank. The hair of female corpses ripples in the current, framing pale faces.
At times, heavy sediment in the water can make flashlights useless, and it is almost total darkness inside the South Korean ferry, which has flipped upside down on the sea floor. Divers must stretch their hands into the void to search for bodies. There’s constant worry that their lifeline to the surface, a 100-meter oxygen hose, will get snagged or cut as they swim deeper through the wreck’s maze-like hallways.
For nearly a week now, dozens of divers have battled fast currents and cold waters — as well as exhaustion and fear — to pull out a steady stream of corpses. As they go deeper into what’s become a huge underwater tomb, they’re getting a glimpse of the ship’s final moments April 16 before it capsized. More than 300 people — most of them high school students — are feared dead.
“They can see the people’s expressions at the instant” the ship sank, Hwang Dae-sik said of the team of 30 divers he supervises for the Marine Rescue and Salvage Association, a private group of professional divers who’ve joined Korean navy and coast guard divers in the search and rescue effort. “From the bodies’ expressions, you can see they were facing danger and death.”
Divers descend about 100 feet (30 meters) and enter the ship through windows they’ve broken with hammers.
Han Yong Duk, a 33-year-old diver, said visibility was often so poor that divers had to feel their way along the outside of the ship to find windows they could smash. One diver tried to hit the ferry with a hammer but only connected with steel, not glass.
Another civilian diver said that sometimes it was pitch black; other times, there was less than 1 foot (20 centimeters) of visibility.
“I got around by fumbling in the darkness to try to find things with my hands,” said Cha Soon-cheol, who spent five days helping with searches. Swimming against the strong currents exhausted him.
Once inside the ship, divers have to dodge floating debris — passengers’ belongings, cargo, ropes, chairs — but also bodies. ...Rest of story