Boy who raised alarm on doomed Korean ferry had no time to call parents

SEOUL (Reuters) – The frightened boy who first raised the alarm that a South Korean ferry with hundreds on board was sinking did not have time to call his parents, his father said, and was found dead not wearing a life jacket.

The boy, with the family name of Choi, called the emergency 119 number which put him through to the fire service, which in turn forwarded him to the coastguard two minutes later. That was followed by about 20 other calls from children to the emergency number, a fire service officer told Reuters.

The Sewol ferry sank on April 16 on a routine trip south from the port of Incheon to the traditional holiday island of Jeju.

More than 300 people, most of them students and teachers from one high school on a field trip, have died or are missing and presumed dead. The children were told to stay put in their cabins, where they waited for further orders. They paid for their obedience with their lives. The confirmed death toll yesterday was 187.

Choi’s body was found on Wednesday, a week after the sinking, at the back of the fourth deck.

“I was so angry at the reality that all I can do is look at the sea and pray, but I am so grateful that he has been found and he is back,” his father told the Kukmin Ilbo newspaper.

“If only he had been wearing a life jacket, I wouldn’t be this heartbroken… He didn’t have time to call his mum and dad… He reported it to 119 and he’s back now. I am so proud of him.”

Grieving parents were taken by a smaller ferry to the sunken vessel on the day after the disaster, wrapped in blankets against the wind and rain.

A witness quoted one mother crying to the sky: “It’s my child’s tears.”

When the smaller ferry reached the scene of the tragedy, all the parents rushed to the right side to look for Sewol’s capsized hull, obscured by mist, causing the smaller boat to list as well, with waves splashing the deck, the witness said.

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