284 people are missing after a South Korean ferry headed to Jeju-do, off the southern tip of the Korean peninsula, sank. According to Yonhap News, four people are confirmed to have died. The accident occurred early Wednesday morning. The 6,325-ton ship was carrying a total of 462 people, including 325 high school students. Jeju is a popular tourist destination for South Koreans and foreigners alike, drawing upwards of 6 million visitors a year.
The ship sent out a distress signal at 8:58 a.m. So far, 174 passengers have been rescued according to South Korea officials. “A total of 174 are confirmed to have survived as of 7:00 p.m., while we continue to aggregate the number of survivors through various channels,” a government source noted.
Currently, there are fears that those still missing might be trapped within the sunken ship, lowering their prospects for survival. A government official noted that low water temperatures, darkness, and fast currents would make the rescue effort difficult as well as worsen the situation considerably for any potential survivors. According to CNN, the water temperature in the area is roughly 10 to 13 degrees Celsius (50 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit).
“There is not much time left before sunset. Please make the best efforts to rescue even one more person,” President Park Geun-hye told the central disaster management office in Seoul.
It’s unknown what precisely caused the ferry to sink. Witnesses report hearing a loud bang and being thrown off their feet, suggesting a collision with an underwater rock. Following the collision, the ship’s crew ordered passengers to jump into the ocean with life jackets on. The ship then sank relatively quickly, suggesting that it had taken massive damage to its hull. Eyewitness reports note that several passengers were unable to exit the ship as it sank.
South Korean naval assets, including helicopters, ships, and military divers, are engaged in the rescue effort. One U.S. Navy ship equipped with two helicopters, the USS Bonhomme Richard, has been diverted to the scene of the incident according to a spokesman for the U.S. Navy in South Korea.