SEOUL: A cellphone video of students aboard a South Korean ferry minutes before hundreds were killed after it capsized and sank shows them laughing and joking about “the Titanic” as the ship began to list.
The initially light-hearted exchanges are rendered all the more poignant and heart-rending by the fact that the video was captured by a 17-year-old student whose body was later recovered from the submerged ferry, along with his cellphone.
“Hey, rescue me,” jokes one male student, while another suggests the video would be “fun to put on Facebook” later.
“It’s getting like the Titanic,” says another as the 6,825-tonne Sewol begins to list further to one side.
The in-built-timer shows the student, Park Su-Hyeon, began recording at 8:52am on April 16, several minutes before the Sewol crew sent out the first distress signal.
Eleven minutes later, the students are still in a jovial mood, with one joking that it might be time to “leave my last words,” and others debating whether the incident might get on the news.
The footage was released to the South Korean media by Park’s father, with the footage pixillated to hide the identities of the students.
Throughout, a loudspeaker can be heard telling passengers to remain where they are.
The captain and 14 of his crew who survived the sinking have been arrested and widely criticised for delaying the evacuation order until the ship was listing so sharply that escape was almost impossible.
The captain argued that he was worried passengers jumping overboard before rescue vessels arrived would have been swept away and drowned.
“What is the captain doing?” asks one of the students on the video.
Coast guard members search for passengers near a South Korean ferry that capsized on its way to Jeju island from Incheon, April 16, 2014
South Korea Coast Guard/AFP/File – Adrian Leung/John Saeki
Of the 476 people on board the Sewol, 325 were students from the same high school on an organised trip to the holiday resort island of Jeju.
As of Friday morning, the number of confirmed dead was 225, with 77 still missing.
Park’s video resumes at around 9:06am, by which time the mood has started to shift towards fear and confusion.
One student complains his legs are shaking and he feels nauseous, while another responds to the tannoy system telling passengers to don lifejackets.
“I don’t understand. Putting on lifejackets? Does this mean the boat is sinking?” he says.
The footage is likely to further fuel public outrage over the disaster and in particular the behaviour of the captain and crew.
Video footage released by the South Korean coastguard on Monday showed the captain scrambling to safety as hundreds remained trapped inside.