Fears grow for hundreds missing in S. Korea ferry capsize

Fears grow for hundreds missing in S. Korea ferry capsize
Coast guard members searching for passengers near a South Korean ferry that capsized on its way to Jeju island from Incheon.

JINDO, South Korea - The frantic search for nearly 300 people, most of them schoolchildren, missing after a South Korean ferry capsized slipped into a second day Thursday, as distraught relatives maintained an agonised vigil on shore.

Six people were confirmed dead, but with every hour that passed fears mounted for the 290 still unaccounted for after the multi-storey vessel with 475 on board suddenly listed, capsized and then sank 20 kilometres (13 miles) offshore.

Naval and coastguard vessels used floodlights and flares to keep the search operation going through the night, but strong currents and low visibility hampered efforts by diving teams to access the submerged vessel in the hope of finding survivors trapped in air pockets.

"They were unable to enter any of the cabins," said one senior coastguard official.

The coastguard said 179 people had been rescued, a figure little changed from the previous evening.

It was still unclear what caused the 6,825-tonne Sewol to sink, although numerous passengers spoke of a loud thud and the vessel coming to an abrupt, shuddering halt - suggesting it had run aground or hit a submerged object.

Distressing mobile phone footage taken by one survivor emerged Thursday, showing the panic on board with one woman desperately screaming "The water's coming, the water's coming."

The captain was among those rescued and was being questioned by coastguard officials.

The passengers included 375 high school students travelling with their teachers to the popular island resort of Jeju.

On nearby Jindo island where anxious relatives wrapped in blankets sat throughout the night waiting for news, there was a mood of angry desperation.

"My daughter is out there, somewhere out there in the cold sea. Please help," said mother Park Yu-Shin.

Some were outraged by survivor testimony that passengers had been told not to move in the crucial period after the ferry stopped and before it listed sharply to the side.

"We must have waited 30 to 40 minutes after the crew told us to stay put," said one rescued student.

"Then everything tilted over and everyone started screaming and scrambling to get out," he said.

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