Six high school students who survived the Sewol disaster in April testified in court on Monday that crew members and Coast Guard officials did not help them as the ferry carrying nearly 500 passengers was sinking.
During a trial held at the Suwon District Court branch in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province, the teenagers said they and 30 other students had waited near an emergency exit for a rescue team, but saw no sign of the crew.
They had to climb up to an exit as the ship tilted, holding hands and pushing each other from behind.
"There were 30 students queued up along an aisle toward an emergency exit, waiting to be rescued," one student said on the witness stand. "With no sign of a rescue team, we jumped into the water one by one. But then a wave swamped the exit and 10 other students couldn't get out of the ship."
The Sewol ferry sank off the country's southwestern coast, leaving more than 300 passengers dead or missing. The victims were mostly high school students on a school trip to Jejudo Island.
The ferry's captain, Lee Joon-seok, and other 15 crew members were indicted on charges of negligent homicide for leaving 476 passengers behind in order to save themselves.
The hearing on Monday saw the first testimonies of surviving students against the ferry crew. The trials for the captain and crew have been held in Gwangju, a city near the site of the accident.
But the judges decided to hold the hearing in Ansan, as the six students all live in the city and could be too traumatized to visit the area near the accident.
The survivors on the witness stand on Monday urged judges to severely punish the crewmen.
Another student testified that Coast Guard officials remained on their rescue boat even when she told them that there were many people waiting near the emergency exit for help.
"The Coast Guard officials were on the rubber boat within an arm's length from the ferry, but they only dragged out people who jumped into the waters," she said. "I told them that there were many friends waiting to be rescued near the exit, but they only stared at them."
Other students who took the stand as witnesses testified that the crew used the public announcement system to order them to stay in their cabins.
"If they only told us to evacuate, many could have escaped from the (sinking) ferry," said one student.
By Cho Chung-un (firstname.lastname@example.org)