South Korea ferry disaster: First bodies pulled from submerged ferry, toll at 58

Apr 20 2014, 20:14 IST
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The confirmed death toll from the disaster stood at 58 with 244 people still unaccounted for. The confirmed death toll from the disaster stood at 58 with 244 people still unaccounted for.
SummaryThe confirmed death toll from the disaster stood at 58 with 244 people still unaccounted for.

Divers retrieved the first bodies today from inside the submerged South Korean ferry that capsized four days ago with hundreds of children on board, as families angered by the pace and focus of the rescue efforts scuffled with police.

The confirmed death toll from the disaster stood at 58 with 244 people still unaccounted for.

Coastguard officials said 19 bodies had been removed from the ship which sank on Wednesday morning, pushing operations further along the painful transition from rescue to recovery and identification.

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Prosecutors, meanwhile, revealed that the officer at the helm of the 6,825-tonne Sewol when it capsized was not familiar with those particular waters.

Three bodies were pulled out of the fully submerged ferry just before midnight and another 16 were recovered later today, a coastguard spokesman said.

It was a watershed moment for distraught relatives who have clung desperately to the idea that some passengers may have survived in air pockets in the upturned vessel.

The bodies were placed in tents at the harbour on Jindo island -- not far from the disaster site -- where the relatives have been camped out in a gymnasium since the ferry went down.

In a process that looks set to be repeated with tragic frequency in the coming days, they were checked for IDs and other particulars, after which their relatives were informed and asked to make an official identification.

Some of the policemen standing guard at the tents were openly weeping, while the cries of the family members could be heard from inside.

Of the 476 people on board the Sewol, 350 were high school students headed for the holiday island of Jeju.Devastated relatives have repeatedly denounced what they

feel has been a botched, delayed and incompetent emergency response to the disaster.

Nearly 200 family members set off today on a hike from Jindo to Seoul -- 420 kilometres to the north -- where they planned to march on the presidential Blue House in protest. Scuffles broke out when they were prevented from crossing the bridge to the mainland by a large police detachment, and eventually they were forced to turn back. One of the marchers, Chung Hye-Sook, a mother of one of the missing students, said she was appalled that the authorities had begun taking DNA samples to facilitate identification of the bodies before the entire ferry had been searched. "What are those people thinking?!," Chung shouted.

"We are asking

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