Several hundred people are still unaccounted for after a South Korean ferry sank off the southern coast of the peninsula Wednesday. As the ship carrying more than 470 capsized, passengers onboard sent heartbreaking text messages to their loved ones, saying their final goodbyes. Nine people have been found dead and 179 were rescued, but rescuers are continuing the difficult search for about 290 people missing, many of whom were teenagers on a school trip.
Some parents received emotional texts from their children as the ferry began to sink. An exchange between a high school student and his mother read:
9:27 a.m.: Mom, I'm sending you this now because I'm afraid I might not be able to say it later. I love you
9:34 a.m.: Why..? I was wondering why you weren't checking the messenger...
9:36 a.m.: Me too, son.. I love you..
CBC reports the student was among those rescued and reunited with his family.
Another teenager headed for the overnight trip to Jeju Island messaged 30 members of a theatre club as the Sewol ferry became submerged, saying, ""If I've wronged any of you, forgive me...Love you guys." The student's status is still unknown.
Family members still await news about their loved ones. As reported by the BBC, one missing student wrote:
Student: "Dad, don't worry. I'm wearing a life vest and am with other girls. We're inside the ship, still in the hallway."
Father: "I know that the rescue is under way, but shouldn't you be waiting outside the rail? Try to get out if you can."
Student: "The ship is too tilted. The hallway is crowded with so many people."
A day after the incident, angry relatives criticized the government for its handling of the situation, throwing water bottles and shouting at South Korean Prime Minister Chung Hong-won, who visited them at a gymnasium. At first, family members were mistakenly told that all of the 325 students had been rescued.
Survivors gave harrowing accounts of the ordeal, telling local news agencies that the ship's crew advised passengers to stay where they were, even as the ferry began to tilt. Many felt the emergency announcements may have made the situation worse.
Several passengers said they heard a bang before the vessel began to sink, raising the possibility the ferry hit something during its travels. The cause of the incident is still unknown. The ship's captain, Lee Joon-seok, faces a criminal investigation, with officials looking into whether he was one of the first people to escape. Emergency crews are scouring the waters for survivors, but bad weather and rough currents make for difficult conditions in the rescue efforts.