Amid screams and shouts for help and the fear of death, there were heroes who helped others escape first from the country’s worst maritime disaster since 1993.
Park Ji-young, a 22-year-old crewmember of the Sewol, was among them. She lost her life while struggling to ensure that all passengers on the third and fourth floors of the vessel wore life jackets and found their way out.
“I repeatedly asked her why she did not first wear a life jacket. Park just said that she would get out of the ship after making sure that all passengers were out. She said the crew including her would be the last (to escape),” a survivor told media.
“Park pushed shocked passengers toward the exit even when the water was up to her chest.”
Kim Jong-hwang, a 58-year-old survivor, also remembered Park’s evacuation efforts.
“When the ship turned upside down, passengers were put on a door with one of them falling through it. Park dragged the passenger out of it and pushed others out of their quarters,” he said.
Park joined the ferry company in 2012 to earn money to support her family, although she was admitted to a college in South Chungcheong Province that year. When her body arrived at a hospital, her mother broke down.
“I can’t believe you left us,” the mother cried.
Jeong Cha-woong, a 17-year-old student, is also being hailed as a hero. He died after giving his own life vest to his drowning friend and hurling himself into the waters to rescue others.
Kim Hong-gyeong, a 59-year-old survivor, also risked his life to save others.
Kim made a 10-meter-long rope with curtains from the ship and used it to drag up several passengers. Although the water was above his knees, he continued his rescue efforts and saved the lives of some 20 people. He, then, boarded a fishing boat that volunteered in the rescue operations.
Park Young-sup, a 56-year-old fisherman with a 9.77-ton boat, also joined the rescue efforts.
On his way home aboard his ship Wednesday, he received a signal for a rescue request from the local maritime communication authorities and piloted his ship to the scene. Along with other rescue staff, he pulled 27 survivors drifting at sea onto his ship and brought them to safer areas.
“I know what kinds of fears they were having as I myself experienced similar situations,” he told media. “You might feel like you’re on the verge of death. That’s why I hurried all the way to the scene to help save the survivors.” Hundreds of military, police and civilian personnel were mobilized for the frantic rescue efforts. Many fishers in the nearby waters also volunteered in the search for survivors. Underwater rescue operations were impeded by fast tidal currents and poor visibility.
The Defense Ministry has appointed Adm. Hwang Ki-chul, the chief of naval operations, to lead the rescue support team, including the 14,000-ton amphibious landing ship Dokdo, three military aircraft and hundreds of naval and army commandos.
Song Sang-ho (firstname.lastname@example.org)