An independent panel said Thursday it took 4 hours and 41 minutes for the Coast Guard to transfer a victim of a 2014 ferry sinking to a hospital after its rescuers spotted him, showing evidence of the authorities' botched efforts to respond to the disaster.
The Special Commission on Social Disaster Investigation also said at a press conference that a visual record of the incident obtained by the commission shows that no helicopters were mobilized to carry injured passengers in the Coast Guard's operations to search for and rescue survivors in the accident that took place in waters off the southern coast on April 16 that year.
The 6,800-ton ferry sank in waters off the southern coast, killing 304 out of 476 passengers in one of South Korea's worst maritime disasters. Most of the victims were high school students on a school trip.
According to the commission, the victim was found at 5:24 p.m. on the day before being moved to a patrol vessel and a rescuer gave first aid treatment to the male student.
A doctor at an emergency room instructed the rescuer to transfer him to a hospital while performing CPR on him.
Park Byung-woo, a member on the commission, said the victim had an oxygen saturation of 69 percent, a value that means he could not be pronounced dead and should have received immediate treatment.
"The student should have been sent to a hospital via a helicopter," he said.
The commission said the student was moved to a hospital at 10:05 p.m. on the day, 4 hours and 41 minutes after he was discovered at the scene and transferred by ship three times. He could have arrived at the hospital in 20 minutes if he had been transferred by helicopter.
A report by the Coast Guard said 11 helicopters and 17 aircraft were mobilized to deal with the tragedy, but most of the helicopters were standing by at the southwestern port of Paengmok on Jindo Island, South Jeolla Province.
A Coast Guard helicopter landed on the patrol vessel around 5:40 p.m. after the student arrived there, but the helicopter left without him at around 5:44 p.m. with Kim Su-hyeon, then chief of the Coast Guard's West Sea operations, aboard, the report said.
Another helicopter landed on the ship at 6:35 p.m. before leaving with then Coast Guard chief Kim Suk-kyoon on board, it added.
According to an official record, the student died at 10:10 p.m. at the hospital.
At Thursday's press conference, Park said the student should have been transferred to a hospital by helicopter as a doctor advised the authorities to immediately transfer him through a telemedicine system.
The commission plans to file an application with the investigative authorities over the alleged belated response to the victim if it finds out further details that could constitute a crime. (Yonhap)