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Acts of bravery emerge from pilloried ship crew

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 22, 2014 at 5:39 am •  Published: April 22, 2014
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MOKPO, South Korea (AP) — As the ferry sank, some crew members gave their lifejackets to passengers. One refused to leave until she shepherded students off the ship, and was later found dead. Others worked from rescue boats to break windows with hammers and pull people trapped in cabins to safety.

Nearly a week after the sinking of the South Korean ferry, with rising outrage over a death count that could eventually top 300, the public verdict against the crew of the Sewol has been savage and quick. "Cowards!" social media users howled. "Unforgivable, murderous," President Park Geun-hye said Monday of the captain and some crew.

Some fled the ferry, including the captain, but not all. At least seven of the 29 crew members are missing or dead, and several of those who survived stayed on or near the ship to help passengers.

"His last words were, 'I'm on my way to save the kids,'" Ahn So-hyun told reporters of what her husband, missing crew member Yang Dae-hong, told her by cellphone as the ship began to sink Wednesday. He was referring to the 323 high school students on the ferry, which was carrying a total of 476 people.

More than 100 people are confirmed dead and nearly 200 more are still missing. Relatives, as well as many other South Koreans, are enraged, lashing out at what they see as a botched rescue operation and, most vehemently, at the captain. He and two crew members have been arrested, accused of negligence and abandoning people in need. Six other crew members have been detained — two of them on Tuesday — though prosecutors have yet to obtain arrest warrants for them.

Captain Lee Joon-seok told passengers to stay in their cabins as the ferry listed and filled with water, then took at least half an hour to order an evacuation and apparently escaped on one of the first rescue boats.

But passengers recall moments of quiet bravery from the crew.

Passenger Koo Bon-hee, 36, told The Associated Press that there were not enough life jackets for everyone in the area on the third floor where he and others waited. So crew members — two men and two women — didn't wear any so that all the passengers could have one.

One of the first bodies recovered after the ferry sank was 22-year-old crew member Park Ji-young, who helped students evacuate until the last minute, even though she wasn't wearing a life vest, South Korean media reported. Witnesses told Yonhap news agency that she told students that crew members must stay on the ship until everyone else leaves, and that she would follow them after helping passengers.

Crew members describe a rending dilemma as the ship went down. The late evacuation order meant that by the time the crew got off the bridge, the tilt of the ship was so great they could barely walk, let alone rescue passengers. Should they flee the sinking ship or risk their lives to save others trapped below?

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