SEOUL, South Korea – As a ferry carrying 476 people was badly listing off the southwestern coast of South Korea two weeks ago, one of the students on board asked, “Are we becoming a Titanic?”
“This is fun!” another shouted, apparently not realizing that the ferry would soon capsize and sink.
In videos recovered from the cellphones of passengers aboard the ferry Sewol, a voice can be heard over the ship’s intercom urging students and their teachers to stay put, telling them they are safer where they are.
But as the ship continued to tip and the voice over the intercom repeated the same instructions, panic spread. Some passengers apparently sensed the approaching doom, and sent farewells to their families.
“This looks like the end!” a boy shouted into a smartphone held by one of his classmates, Park Su-hyeon.
Before he could finish, another boy cut in: “Mom, Dad, I love you.”
The young passengers were among 325 second-year high school students on board the 6,825-ton ferry, which sank April 16. After Su-hyeon, 17, was found dead, the police returned the boy’s recovered personal items to his family, who discovered the video footage on his phone. This week, his father, Park Jong-dae, released the video to the local news media, saying that South Koreans must watch it to learn what went wrong.
As of Wednesday, 210 people were confirmed dead, with 92 still missing. Of the dead or missing, 250 were students on a school trip to a resort island.
“This is by far the most heartbreaking scene I have seen in my 27-year broadcasting career,” said Choi Seung-ho, a veteran television producer, when he introduced the footage on Newstapa, a website run by the Korea Center for Investigative Journalism.
The footage was edited to blur the faces of the students, and the students whose voices were captured were not identified. But the videos show how students who followed the crew’s instructions were trapped while many of the crew members, including the captain, were among the first to desert their vessel.
Some of the male students appeared to hide their growing fear with jokes and uneasy laughs. One student said, “We are going to make news with this.” Another said, “This is going to be a lot of fun if we get it onto our Facebook.”
At 8:57, as another announcement from the crew advised “please never move,” one student said: “Should I call Mom? Mom, this looks like the end of me.”
Amid the growing panic, one boy shouted that he did not want to die. “I still have lots of animation movies I haven’t watched yet,” he said.It is over, another student said, finding no more cellphone signal and unable to send his last words to his family. A few shouted into Su-hyeon’s camera. One said he loved his parents.
Another advised his little sister never to take a school trip like the one he was on.