16 Apr 2014

Hundreds missing after ferry capsizes

10:16 pm on 16 April 2014

A major rescue effort is continuing for almost 300 people missing after a ferry capsized and sank off South Korea. Officials say two bodies have been recovered and 164 people rescued

Most of the 476 passengers on the Sewol were high school students from Seoul on a trip to the South Korean resort island on Wednesday. Dozens of ships including the US Navy's amphibious assault vessel the USS Bonhomme Richard and helicopters are involved in the search.

The South Korean ferry had been on a trip to Jeju island.

The South Korean ferry had been on a trip to Jeju island. Photo: AFP / South Korea Coast Guard

The 6825-tonne ferry was sailing from the western port of Incheon to Jeju island, one of the country's most popular tourist destinations, when it ran into trouble 24km off the island of Byungpoong and made a distress call at 9am (local time).

Several hours after the disaster, at least 290 people remained missing, local media said.

South Korean officials had earlier said that 368 people had been plucked to safety, but later said there had been a counting error, the BBC reports.

Balanced on the sinking hull, rescuers pulled the teenagers from cabin windows, their classmates left to wait their turn jumped into the water as the ship went down.

Some passengers picked up by rescue boats and taken to a nearby island have begun telling their stories of how they felt a large thud before the hull began to list, how they clung onto the ship to stop themselves falling.

Angry parents have gathered at the school to demand answers and are questioning why the ferry was allowed to leave amid reports of bad weather.