SEOUL - Heart-wrenching messages of fear, love and despair, sent by high school students from a sinking South Korean ferry, added extra emotional weight Thursday to a tragedy that has stunned the nation.
Nearly 300 people - most of them students on a high school trip to a holiday island - are still missing after the ferry capsized and sank on Wednesday morning.
"Sending this in case I may not be able to say this again. Mom, I love you," student Shin Young-Jin said in a text to his mother that was widely circulated in the South Korean media.
"Oh, I love you too son," texted back his mother - unaware at the time that her boy was caught in a life and death struggle to escape the rapidly sinking vessel.
Unlike many others, the exchange had a happy ending as Shin was one of only 179 survivors rescued before the ferry capsized and went under the water.
Others were not so fortunate.
Another student, 16-year-old Kim Woong-Ki, sent a desperate text for help to his elder brother as the ship listed violently over to one side.
"My room is tilting about 45 degrees. My mobile is not working very well," Kim messaged.
Seeking to reassure him, his brother said he was sure help was on the way.
"So don't panic and just do whatever you're told to do. Then you'll be fine," he messaged back.
There was no further communication and Kim was listed among the 287 people on board still unaccounted for.
Sadly his brother's advice was similar to that of the crew, who controversially ordered passengers to stay put when the ship first foundered.