[Newsmaker] Teachers hailed for sacrifices to save children on ferry

By Claire Lee
  • Published : May 21, 2014 - 20:50
  • Updated : May 21, 2014 - 21:09
More than 30 days after the sinking of the ferry Sewol, teachers of Danwon High School ― which lost 250 students to the disaster ― are being recognized as heroes.

Only three of the 14 teachers survived, making them the group with the lowest surviving rate among the passengers on board.

Most of the teachers’ bodies, including those who were staying in the cabins on the fifth floor of the ship, were found on the fourth floor. It is assumed that they retreated to the lower deck in an attempt to rescue their students, as the majority of the survivors were from the fifth floor of the ferry.

The bodies of four teachers ― Jeon Soo-yeong, Kim Cho-won, Lee Ji-hye and Choi Hye-jeong ― were discovered on the third and fourth floors, while their cabins were located on the fifth. The body of another teacher Nam Yoon-cheol, whose room was on the fourth floor, was also found in the sea. 
A carnation is placed in front of the photographs of the late Danwon High School teachers at an incense-burning altar set up at Ansan Olympic Memorial Hall in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province, on Teacher’s Day, May 15. (Yonhap)

Among them, the body of Lee, a 31-year-old Korean language teacher, was found on the fourth floor of the ship on May 3, while the body of her colleague Jeon, a 25-year-old who also taught Korean, was discovered on the third floor on May 19. Neither of them were wearing life jackets. A student survivor from the third floor said the teachers told them to get above deck to escape the sinking ferry.

“I have to get children to wear their life jackets,” Lee said in her last text message to her mother and her boyfriend the day the Sewol sank. “There are no life jackets. I am sorry. I love you.”

The body of Goh Chang-seok, a 43-year-old teacher who reportedly gave life jackets to his students on the fourth floor, remains missing.

The ferry Sewol, en route to Jejudo Island from Incheon, capsized on April 16 while carrying 476 passengers including 325 Danwon High School students. The sinking left more than 300 dead or missing, while 22 of the 29 crew survived, including 15 responsible for the operation of the ship. The 15, including the ferry’s captain Lee Joon-seok, were among the first to be rescued. Lee and three other crew members were indicted on charges of manslaughter on May 15.

Two days after the ferry sank, Danwon High School’s vice principal, who was one of the passengers rescued from the ship, was found dead in an apparent suicide, after expressing feelings of guilt for surviving.

By Claire Lee (