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Ferry sinking: Cell phone video captures last moments inside doomed Korean ferry

Ferry sinking: Video taken from inside of the doomed South Korean Sewol ferry by a 17-year-old deceased boy has been released by the boy’s father to the media, reports the Huffington Post on May 1. The cell phone video taken by the student on board the sinking South Korean ferry records the last words and pictures of the teenage passengers. The father of the boy who released the video requested the faces be blurred to protect grieving families.

Mourners gather for a candlelight vigil for the hundreds of children lost on the South Korea ferry tragedy.
Mourners gather for a candlelight vigil for the hundreds of children lost on the South Korea ferry tragedy. Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

The full 17-minute recording made by Park Su-hyeon provides the most heartbreaking glimpse yet into the moments before the ferry sank off the coast of South Korea two weeks ago, trapping hundreds of children inside. The young passengers were among the 325 second-year high school students. A total of 476 souls were on the ferry that day. As of Wednesday, 210 have been confirmed dead, with 92 bodies still missing.

This week, after Su-hyeon’s personal items were returned to his family, his father, Park Jong-dae, released the video to the Korean media, saying that officials must “learn what went wrong.” The video was translated by USA Today and The Associated Press, and gives us now a brief look into the April 16 tragedy from inside the vessel.

The student video begins at 8:52 a.m. Korea time. The ship had already begun to list on its side; students are seen trying to walk on the side of walls and bunk beds and attempting to balance themselves. The audio is equal parts humor, anxiousness and terror.

Early on, an announcement can be heard: "Don't move away from your places and brace for any possible accidents."

One student then jokingly asks: "Am I going to die?" But another quickly chastises him and says: "It is not time to laugh. We are in a real situation."

The announcement from the ferry’s speakers tell all students to put on their life jackets, but over and over we hear the announcer telling the children to remain where they are. By the time the clip is over, all the students are wearing their life jackets.

Phrases heard on the clip, as translated by The AP:

"Dad, I don't want to die."

"It will be fun if waters flow in."

Some students joke about “final commemorative pictures," and "defying gravity," saying they feel like they are on the “Titanic.”

"It's like we're becoming the Titanic."

"I'm really scared," a student says.

"Is it really sinking? Wow, they're giving us life vests."

"I'm getting out of here.”

"We have to survive now."

"We're all finished. I have to leave some farewell words before I die.”

"Mom, I love you.”

“Am I really going to die?”

“Can someone get the life jackets?” A response can be heard: “Why bother?”

“We don’t want to die.”

“The ship is leaning.”

Again the announcement comes: "We're again announcing: For passengers who can wear life vests, please wear them now. Never move away from your places."

Says USA Today: “Captain Lee Joon-seok said he delayed evacuation because of worries about sending passengers into cold waters and fast currents before rescuers arrived. He said he ultimately ordered an evacuation, but it was not clear if that order was ever announced to passengers. The captain and 14 crewmembers have been detained on suspicion of negligence and abandoning people in need. Prosecutors are investigating whether stability issues related to too much cargo or a redesign that added more cabins to the ship contributed to the sinking.”

The New York Times picks up the story and the audio trail:

Though the vessel had tilted so much that some students were grabbing the railings on the wall to hang on, the video showed no sign of students trying to escape.

At 8:53, a voice on the intercom again advised the passengers not to move.

“What? Hurry! Save us!” a student shrieked. Another wondered, “Are we going to die?” A minute later, as the ship listed further, some students suggested donning life jackets. An announcement over the intercom again instructed passengers to stay where they were.

At 8:55, while the ship’s crew sent its first distress signal, one student in the cabin below shouted, “We don’t want to die!”

Over the intercom, the students were again urged not to move and to hold onto what they could. The ship’s captain and crew members later told reporters and investigators that they had thought it was safer for the passengers to stay in their cabins than to move in a panicked mass, causing the ship to list faster, or for them to jump into cold waters when the rescue ships were still far away.

Some of the male students appeared to hide their growing fear with jokes and uneasy laughs. One student said, “We are going to make news with this.” Another said, “This is going to be a lot of fun if we get it onto our Facebook.”

At 8:57, as another announcement from the crew advised “please never move,” one student said: “Should I call Mom? Mom, this looks like the end of me.”

After a two-and-a-half-minute break, the video resumed at 9:00, when students began passing one another life jackets and one wanted to have a picture taken as a “souvenir.” Some students complained that the zippers of their life jackets did not work and one student gave his life jacket to a classmate who could not find one.

“What about you?” the classmate asked.

“Don’t worry,” his friend responded. “I will get one for myself.”

Amid the growing panic, one boy shouted that he did not want to die. “I still have lots of animation movies I haven’t watched yet,” he said. Another boy made a V sign with his fingers in front of the phone’s camera.

At 9:03, one student wondered, “What is the captain doing?”

Three minutes later, students yelled “Silence! Silence!” as the ship’s intercom crackled again, repeating the same message: Stay put and wear life jackets if possible.

“Yes, sir!” a few students responded in a hopeful tone. But another questioned the instruction: “What’s going on? If they are telling us to wear life jackets, doesn’t that mean that the ship is sinking?”

At 9:07, the voice over the intercom repeated the instruction.

Per news.com.au, the South Korean coastguard released a video earlier this week showing captain Lee scrambling to safety as hundreds of children remained trapped inside the ferry. Public disgust at the behavior of the crew has been matched by the anger of the victims’ relatives with the official response to the disaster.

South Korean President Park Geun-Hye apologized on Tuesday for her government’s “failure to combat systemic and regulatory evils” that may have contributed to the accident and for the “insufficient first response.”