The water temperature in the area was about 54 degrees Fahrenheit,, cold enough to cause signs of hypothermia after about 1½ hours of exposure, according to an emergency official who spoke on condition of anonymity citing department rules. Lee, the vice minister, said the ocean is 121 feet deep in the area.
Passenger Kim Seong-mok told YTN that he was certain that many people were trapped inside the ferry as water quickly rushed in and the severe tilt of the vessel kept them from reaching the exits. Some people urged those who couldn’t get out to break windows.
Kim said that after having breakfast he felt the ferry tilt and then heard it crash into something. He said the ferry operator made an announcement asking that passengers wait and not move from their places. Kim said he didn’t hear any announcement telling passengers to escape.
The students — about half of them boys and half girls— are from Danwon High School in Ansan city, which is near Seoul, and were on their way to Jeju island for a four-day trip, according to a relief team set up by Gyeonggi province, which governs the city. There are faster ways to get to Jeju, but some people take the ferry from Incheon because it is cheaper than flying. Many South Korean high schools organize trips for students in their first or second years, and Jeju is a popular destination. The students on the ferry were in their second year, which would make most of them 16 or 17.
At the high school, students were sent home and parents gathered for news about the ferry.
Park Ji-hee, a first-year student, said she saw about a dozen parents crying at the school entrance and many cars and taxis gathered at the gate as she left in the morning.
She said some students in her classroom began to cry as they saw the news on their handsets. Teachers tried to soothe them, saying that the students on the ferry would be fine.
The Maritime Ministry said the two previous deadliest ferry disasters were in 1970 when 323 people drowned and in 1993 when 292 people died.