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Divers recover more bodies from sunken South Korean ferry

Published:Friday | April 25, 2014 | 10:11 AM

JINDO, South Korea (AP)

South Korean officials say divers searching the wreck of the sunken South Korean ferry are finding cabins crammed with bodies, but encountering major obstacles in recovering them.

The divers today found the bodies of 48 girls wearing life jackets in a cabin with a capacity of 30, indicating many ran into the same room when ship tilted.

This has pushed the death toll from the ferry disaster in South Korea to 185, the Coast Guard said.

This means that there are still 117 people missing.

Divers have been grope their way slowly through the dark corridors and cabins of the sunken Sewol ferry.

Bodies appear suddenly, floating by in the murky water, buoyed by life-jackets or the bloat of decomposition, their faces etched with fear or shock.

Some are still locked together in embraces, a freeze-frame of panic as the water rushed in and the ship sank.

At times, heavy sediment in the water can make flashlights useless and it is almost total darkness inside the South Korean ferry, which has flipped upside down on the seafloor.

Divers must stretch their hands into the void to search for bodies.

There's constant worry their lifeline to the surface, a 100-meter oxygen hose, will get snagged or cut as they swim deeper through the wreck's maze-like hallways.

For nearly a week now, dozens of divers have battled fast currents and cold waters — as well as exhaustion and fear — to pull out a steady stream of corpses.

As they go deeper into what's become a huge underwater tomb, they're getting a glimpse of the ship's final moments April 16 before it capsized.

More than 300 — most of them high school students — are feared dead.

"They can see the people's expressions at the instant" the ship sank, Hwang Dae-sik said of the team of 30 divers he supervises for the Marine Rescue and Salvage Association, a private group of professional divers who've joined Korean navy and coast guard divers in the search and rescue effort. "From the bodies' expressions, you can see they were facing danger and death."

Divers descend about 30 meters (100 feet) down and enter the ship through windows they've broken with hammers.

Han Yong Duk, a 33-year-old diver, said that visibility was often so poor that divers had to feel their way along the outside of the ship to find windows they could smash. One diver tried to hit the ferry with a hammer but only connected with steel, not glass.

Another civilian diver said that sometimes it was pitch black; other times there was less than 20 centimeters (a foot) of visibility.


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