We're still trying to piece together what happened with the South Korean ferry that capsized last week. But what we do know is that some heroes stood up to save passengers, even at a great cost to themselves.
Four hundred and seventy-six people were aboard the Sewol, which tragically capsized on Wednesday — one of them was 22-year-old Park Ji-young. She worked in the cafeteria, not as part of the crew. The ship's communication officer announced to passengers that it was "more dangerous to move" than to risk a disorderly evacuation. Frigid water was filling the ferry's lower levels, causing it to list hard to one side.
The crew didn't stick around to help anyone else. It was Park who stayed behind to calm down frightened children and pass out life jackets. She didn't save one for herself, and she told passengers that she wouldn't leave the boat until every passenger was safely off and accounted for. "After saving you, I will get out," she reportedly said. "The crew goes out last."
"Park pushed shocked passengers toward the exit even when the water was up to her chest," said one witness.
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Park's body was found Wednesday. So far the death toll from the Sewol disaster stands at 87, with 215 still missing. Divers do not expect to find other survivors.
When the Sewol began to take water and capsize, possibly after making a sharp turn, Captain Lee Joon-seok was "tending to something" in his cabin. Kang Hae-seong, the communications officer, instructed passengers to stay inside and wait. Kang said he could not remember ever participating in an evacuation drill, and that he didn't have time to look over the manual. Captain Lee said, "Abandoning the ship without discretion would make you drift off a fairly far distance and cause a lot of trouble." He elected not to evacuate his passengers, just himself. He now faces between five years and life in prison for his conduct.
None of this will be of much comfort to the families of those who lost loved ones, including Park's family. "I can't believe you left us," her mother cried when Park's body arrived at the hospital.
Fred Rogers, known for his long-running children's television show, said that when things get scary, look for the helpers. Passengers on the Sewol were lucky enough to find Park Ji-yong.