A ferry carrying more than 450 passengers and crew sank off South Korea’s Jindo Island on Wednesday, leaving hundreds unaccounted for and at least four dead — a number that’s sure to rise.
The ferry, the 482-foot, 6,325-ton Sewol, began to sink about 8:55 a.m. on its way to Jejudo Island from Incheon, according to a report by The Korea Herald. Just a few minutes earlier, Sewol began to drift in an unexpected direction, according to a statement by the country’s Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries.
The ferry company said 462 people were aboard; the government put the figure at 459.
As of 7 p.m. (local time) Wednesday, 174 people were rescued and 284 were unaccounted for. Of the passengers, 324 were students and 14 were faculty members from a local high school on a school trip.
The cause of the sinking is still unknown, but eyewitnesses said the ferry hit something before it listed and quickly sank in about 150 feet of water.
Some passengers reported hearing or feeling a "boom" prior to the accident. Others said the on-board announcement system told people to stay put, which could have led to people becoming trapped, according to the Mirror. Passengers began jumping into the sea after an on-board announcement that the ship was about to sink as rescue efforts were under way.
The water temperature was reported to be about 54 F (12 C).
The 69-year-old captain of the Sewol was reported to have eight years’ experience on the Incheon-Jejudo Island route and was the most experienced of the three captains who operate the company’s large ferries, according to The Korea Herald.
The U.S. Navy ship Bonhomme Richard has joined the rescue efforts. The U.S. 7th Fleet said it would provide support as necessary.