South Korea ferry disaster

Cellphone video depicts students joking before sinking of South Korean ferry

Cellphone depicts light-hearted banter, with one person saying scene was 'getting like the Titanic'

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 May, 2014, 12:29pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 May, 2014, 6:43am

A cellphone video of students aboard a South Korean ferry minutes before it capsized and sank shows them laughing and joking about the Titanic as the Sewol began to list.

The initially light-hearted exchanges are rendered all the more poignant by the fact that the video was taken by a 17-year-old student whose body was later recovered from the submerged ferry, along with his cellphone.

"Hey, rescue me," jokes one male student, while another suggests the video would be "fun to put on Facebook" later.

"It's getting like the Titanic," says another as the Sewol begins to list further to one side.

The in-built timer shows the student, Park Su-hyeon, began recording at 8.52am on April 16, several minutes before the crew sent out the first distress signal.

Eleven minutes later, the students were still in a jovial mood, with one joking that it might be time to "leave my last words", and others debating whether the incident might get on the news.

The footage was released to the South Korean media by Park's father, with the footage pixilated to hide the identities of the students.

Throughout, a loudspeaker can be heard telling passengers to remain where they are.

The captain and 14 of his crew have been arrested and widely criticised for delaying the evacuation order until the ship was listing so sharply that escape was almost impossible. The captain argued that he was worried passengers jumping overboard before rescue vessels arrived would have been swept away and drowned.

"What is the captain doing?" asks one of the students on the video.

Of the 476 people on board the Sewol, 325 were students from the same high school on an organised trip to the holiday resort island of Jeju. As of Friday, the number of confirmed dead was 226, with 76 still missing.

Park's video resumes at 9.06am, by which time the mood has started to shift towards fear and confusion. One student complains his legs are shaking and he feels nauseous, while another responds to the loudspeakers telling passengers to don life jackets.

"I don't understand. Putting on life jackets? Does this mean the boat is sinking?" he says.

The footage is likely to fuel more public outrage over the disaster and, in particular, the behaviour of the captain and crew.

Video released by the South Korean coastguard on Monday showed the captain scrambling to safety as hundreds remained trapped inside.

The precise cause of the accident is still under investigation, but experts have suggested a sharp turn may have caused its cargo to shift and the ferry to list irretrievably to one side before capsizing.

Two of the officials from the ferry operator, Chonghaejin Marine, were paraded before television cameras yesterday after being questioned for two days over allegations that the Sewol was carrying three times its recommended cargo weight.

Asked if he believed overloading might have caused the accident, one of the officials - his face hooded and wearing a surgical mask - answered: "Yes."

Divers continued their efforts to retrieve the last bodies from the submerged vessel.