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Search for 16 missing halted over diver's death

Search operations for missing people in last month's deadly sinking of the ferry Sewol were put on hold Saturday following the death of a civilian diver during an underwater job, officials said.

With little progress being made over the past 10 days to find the 16 people still missing, 44-year-old diver Lee Min-seop was killed Friday while participating in the operations to cut open windows of the submerged hull to gain access to unsearched compartments filled with debris.

He was sent to a nearby hospital after complaining of breathing difficulties but was pronounced dead soon after, according to the state response team.

His colleague who joined him for the cutting job said he heard an explosion underwater. The authorities said they are looking into the exact cause of his death and what happened at the time.

"We've temporarily suspended the search to learn the exact cause," a response team official said, without elaborating on when the operations would resume.

The fatality is the second among divers working at the scene.

Earlier this month, a diver named Lee Kwang-wook working for a private contractor died after becoming unconscious during the search operations.

The 6,825-ton ferry en route to the southern resort island of Jeju sank in the country's southwestern waters on April 16. Of an estimated 476 people on board the ill-fated ship, 288 have been confirmed dead, most of whom were high school students on a field trip. (Yonhap)