World / Asia-Pacific

Panic-filled sinking conveyed in texts

By Jung Ha-won in Seoul (China Daily) Updated: 2014-04-18 07:14

Panic-filled sinking conveyed in texts

Relatives of a passenger aboard a sunken ferry wait in anguish for news from the rescue operation at a port in Jindo, South Korea, on Thursday. Ahn Young-joon / Associated Press

Panic-filled sinking conveyed in texts

Teenagers send heart-wrenching messages to parents as ferry tilts

Heart-wrenching messages of fear, love and despair, sent by high school students from a sinking South Korean ferry, added extra emotional weight on Thursday to a tragedy that has stunned the nation.

About 270 people - most of them students on a high school trip to a holiday island - are still missing after the ferry capsized and sank on Wednesday morning.

"Sending this in case I may not be able to say this again. Mom, I love you," student Shin Young-jin said in a text to his mother that was widely circulated in the country's media.

"Oh, I love you too, son," his mother texted back unaware at the time that her boy was caught in a life-and-death struggle to escape the rapidly sinking vessel.

Unlike many others, the exchange had a happy ending as Shin was one of the survivors rescued.

Others were not so fortunate.

Another student, 16-year-old Kim Woong-ki, sent a desperate text for help to his elder brother as the ship listed violently over to one side.

"My room is tilting about 45 degrees. My mobile is not working very well," Kim said.

Seeking to reassure him, his brother said he was sure help was on the way.

"So don't panic and just do whatever you're told to do. Then you'll be fine," he messaged back.

There was no further communication and Kim was listed among the people on board still unaccounted for.

Sadly his brother's advice was similar to that of the crew, who controversially ordered passengers to stay put when the ship first foundered.

Relatives said this resulted in the passengers getting trapped when the ferry keeled over, cutting off routes of escape.

That grim scenario was encapsulated in the texts of an 18-year-old student, identified in the local media by her surname Shin.

"Dad, don't worry. I'm wearing a life vest and am with other girls. We're inside the ship, still in the hallway," the girl messaged to her father.

Her distraught father wrote back urging her to try and get out, but it was already too late.

"Dad, I can't. The ship is too tilted. The hallway is crowded with so many people," she responded in a final message.

Some parents managed a last phone call with their children as they tried to escape.

"He told me the ship was tilted over, and he couldn't see anything," one mother recalled of a panicked conversation with her student son.

"He said 'I haven't put on the life jacket yet', and then the phone went dead," the mother told the Dong-A Ilbo newspaper.

Agence France-Presse

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