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S Korea ferry heroes recount rescue of passengers

The captain and crew members of the South Korean ferry Sewol were one of the first to be rescued and taken ashore, but there were others who risked their own lives to save the passengers on board.

ANSAN: As prosecutors investigate the reasons behind the sinking of the South Korean ferry Sewol, more evidence suggests that the ship captain and his crew were partly to blame.

A total of 15 crew members including the captain have been arrested for failing to make efforts to save the more than 400 passengers on board.

They were one of the first to be rescued and taken ashore, but there were others who risked their own lives to save the passengers.

A member of the coast guard struggled to try and get life rafts off the sinking Sewol.

Lee Hyung-rae was one of the first to arrive at the scene as the ship was listing. He said he could not believe what he saw when he arrived.

Mr Lee, a South Korean Navy police, said: “There was nobody out on the ship, nobody to save. I thought, 'this can't be', and for a while my mind went blank.”

Without thinking twice, Mr Lee jumped onto the sinking ship to get the life rafts out, thinking that if passengers managed to escape, they would need them.

He said: “Even if they came out wearing their life vests, and had jumped into the waters, I think we could have saved them all.”

Mr Lee managed to save six people on board but even now, he cannot forget what he saw on that terrible day.

Like him, Kim Dong-soo said he cannot forget what happened on April 16. He was on the fourth floor of the five-floor ferry as it was listing and about to go under.

Even in the dangerous situation, Mr Kim grabbed a hose and threw it to people still trapped inside the cabin.

“There were girls inside who were falling because they had no strength left," Mr Kim said. "And so I grabbed two hoses there, because then they could hold on to them and make their way out. I tied the hoses to a pillar and kept throwing in the hoses.”

The 49-year-old cargo van driver was on his way to Jeju Island from the port city of Incheon together with more than 400 passengers, most of them high school students.

“I kept thinking of my daughter at home. What if she was the one there now? There was no need to think of anything else or be afraid,” Mr Kim said.

He was pulling up some students out of the cabin when suddenly, water gushed in.

“Suddenly they were all submerged. It must have been like 10 seconds, very sudden. Some couldn't get out,” Mr Kim recounted.

He eventually managed to rescue more than 10 people.

One of those Mr Kim saved was a six-year-old girl who was travelling with her parents and brother.

She appears to be the only one in her family who survived -- her mother's body has been found. Her father and older brother remain missing.

Mr Kim regrets he could not save more people, but as the ferry was sinking, he had no choice but to leave.

That moment still haunts him today.

Mr Kim said: “If you weren't there you won't know what it was like for me to leave them behind. The students were saying, 'please wait a bit longer, just a bit longer, please’.”

On the first day, 174 passengers got out alive, including the ship's captain and most of his crew. There have been no survivors since then.

Many of the 325 high school students who were on that ferry -- going to Jeju Island on a school trip -- are believed to be dead and still missing. 

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