Diver dies in search operation

By Korea Herald

First death of rescue worker adds to tragedy of ferry disaster

  • Published : May 6, 2014 - 21:11
  • Updated : May 7, 2014 - 00:01
Buddhist monks and families of the ferry victims on Tuesday walk along Paengmok Port on Jindo Island, South Jeolla Province, as part of a Buddha’s Birthday event to pay respects to the victims of the Sewol accident. (Yonhap)
A civilian diver searching for the sunken ferry Sewol’s missing died Tuesday, adding to the tragedy that continues to grow nearly three weeks since the fatal accident.

As of 8 p.m., the death toll stood at 267 and the number of missing at 35. The Sewol was carrying 476 passengers and crew when it sank some 20 kilometers off the coast of Jindo Island, South Jeolla Province, on April 16. The majority of passengers on board were students and teachers from Danwon High School in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province.

In the early hours of Tuesday, a civilian diver identified by the surname Lee lost consciousness within minutes of entering the water and died while being treated at a hospital in Mokpo, South Jeolla Province.

Lee was one of the 13 additional civilian divers mobilized to ease the burden on those who had been working on the search operation for an extended period.

He was working with Undine Marine Industries Co., the controversy-plagued salvage company leading the search operations.

The exact cause of Lee’s death is not yet known, but the hospital that treated him said that it is likely to have been gas building up inside his skull.

A hospital official told the media that gas can build up inside the skull due to injuries and rarely due to diving-related causes, but that it was not yet clear what caused the build-up.

In addition to Lee, 17 divers have been injured during the search operations.

As for the search operations, the team is hoping to capitalize on the neap tide ― when tidal differences are lowest and currents slow down ― that begins Wednesday.

Divers have so far completed searching 64 of the 111 cabins thought to have been occupied. Those leading the search operations plan to double-check cabins as necessary and complete sweeping other compartments including the ship’s shop by Saturday.

With bodies having been recovered as far as 4 kilometers from the site of accident, authorities are stepping up measures to prevent bodies from being lost.

Since the accident, large nets have been placed at key locations to catch bodies carried by the currents, and trawlers have been deployed to collect bodies and debris that may have been carried away from the wreck.

By Choi He-suk (