Park Young-Chul-Donga Daily via Getty Images(SEOUL, South Korea) — The captain of a ferry that sank off the coast of South Korea Wednesday, leaving nearly 300 people missing, is under investigation as a criminal and was one of the first people to escape the doomed vessel, Coast Guard officials said.
Lee Joon-seok, 69, left the ferry on a lifeboat 32 minutes after reporting an accident, officials said.
The captain appeared on Korean television Thursday, his face covered by a gray hoodie.
“I am really sorry and deeply ashamed,” he said, as he was being questioned at the Mokpo Coast Guard Office.
About 290 people remain missing following the accident, with nine fatalities confirmed and the death toll expected to rise.
Hundreds of Navy and Coast Guard divers are battling murky conditions on Thursday, searching for survivors. But as the hours pass, relatives of the missing passengers are losing hope.
So far, 179 people been rescued.
Text messages sent by passengers to loved ones offer a glimpse into the desperate situation inside the crippled vessel.
“Dad, don’t worry. I’ve got a life vest on and we’re huddled together,” one student, identified only by her last name, Shin, texted her father, according to MBC News, a Korean news station.
The father replied: “I know the rescue is underway but make your way out if you can.”
“Dad, I can’t walk out,” she replied. “The corridor is full of kids, and it’s too tilted.”
The student was among the missing passengers, many of them high schoolers at Danwon High School in Ansan. The students were on a class trip.
Thursday’s rescue efforts have been marked by rain, strong wind, currents and fog — as well as a lack of organization. Coast guard crews tried to inject air into the boat, but that endeavor was unsuccessful due to the poor weather conditions.
Additionally, the rescue operation center had difficulty communicating with search crews at the sinking site, which is about an hour’s boat ride from Jindo Island.
Relatives of passengers yelled at authorities, demanding answers and seeking miracles at Jindo Island. Some family members visited the location where the passengers are believed to have been trapped.
Other parents gathered at Danwon High School, holding a candlelight vigil.
The only hope is that maybe, somehow the passengers are alive, saved by a pocket of air.
Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio
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