Crew Member: Ferry Tragedy Could've Been Prevented
Search and rescue teams continued to comb the waters off South Korea Thursday, looking for survivors from the ferry that sunk near the southern coast.
At least nine people have been confirmed dead so far, with about 300 still missing. Most of them are high school students who were on a school trip to the tourist island of Jeju.
Their parents are anxiously gathering at the staging site, waiting for word.
Twenty-six ships, along with sailors from the ship salvage unit and underwater demolition teams are taking part in the effort.
But strong currents, rain and bad visibility are making it hard for rescuers to search the vessel and nearby waters.
Still, parents are clinging to hope with text messages like one from one missing 18-year-old:
"Dad, don't worry. I've got a life vest on and we're huddled together," the teen said.
Another son simply texted, "Mom, I might not be able to tell you in person, I love you."
One family received devastating news: Their son did not survive.
The ferry was carrying 475 people. But overnight, just three hours away from its destination, the vessel began to list.
Oh Yong-seok, a 58-year-old crew member, now says an immediate evacuation order was not issued.
Instead, the ship's officers spent a precious half hour trying to stabilize the ferry before telling passengers to get off -- something that may have cost lives.
"The rescue wasn't done well. We were wearing life jackets. We had time," passenger Koo Bon-hee said from a hospital bed in Mokpo. "If people had jumped into the water ... they could have been rescued. But we were told not to go out."
Lee Joon Suk, the captain of the ship, has apologized for the mistake.
"I am really sorry and deeply ashamed," he said. "I don't know what to say."
First responders were able to reach the ship using helicopters. Rescuers lifted some passengers from the deck, while others clutched railings until they could make it into rescue boats.
"It was very intense," one male passenger recalled. "The ship tilted more than 45 degrees."
The ship sank in the 90-foot seas in just two hours. So far, there's been no word on what caused the tragedy.