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Boat With More Than 450 People Sinks in China's Yangtze

At least 18 people survived, but hundreds remain missing after a boat carrying more than 450 people, many elderly, sank in the Yangtze River.
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/ Source: The Associated Press

BEIJING — Rescuers pulled out six trapped survivors after hearing cries for help Tuesday from inside a capsized cruise ship that went down overnight in a storm on China's Yangtze River with 458 people aboard, most of them elderly, state broadcaster CCTV said.

At least other 12 people are known to have survived, some of them by swimming ashore, and five people were confirmed dead in the accident late Monday during a cruise from Nanjing to the southwestern city of Chongqing, the broadcaster said.

Search teams heard people calling out from within the partially submerged ship when they climbed aboard the upside-down hull, CCTV reported more than 12 hours after the ship went down in Hubei Province about 9:38 p.m. Monday during windy weather.

The overturned ship had drifted about almost 2 miles downstream before coming to rest close to the river shore, where choppy waters made the rescue difficult.

Footage from the broadcaster showed rescuers in orange life vests climbing on the upside-down hull, with one of them lying down tapping a hammer and listening for a response, then gesturing downward.

Divers later pulled out six survivors, including an 85-year-old woman, CCTV said, bringing the total of number of people to have reached safety to 18. It said five people were confirmed dead.

The fact that the capsized ship drifted downstream was a good sign for rescuers because it meant there was enough air inside to give it buoyancy, and could mean there are enough air pockets for survivors to breathe, said Chi-Mo Park, a professor of naval architecture and ocean engineering at South Korea's Ulsan University.

"It all depends how much space there is inside the vessel," Park said.

The official Xinhua News Agency quoted the captain and chief engineer, who were both rescued, as saying the ship sank quickly after being caught in a cyclone. The Communist Party-run People's Daily said the ship sank within two minutes. CCTV said the two men were under police custody.

CCTV said the four-level ship had been carrying 406 Chinese passengers, five travel agency employees and 47 crew members. The broadcaster said most of the passengers were 50 to 80 years of age.

The ship sank in the Damazhou waterway section, where the river is about 50 feet deep, and drifted almost 2 miles. The Yangtze is the world's third-longest river and sometimes floods during the summer monsoon season.

More than 50 boats and 3,000 people were involved in search efforts.

CCTV reported that 6 inches of rain had fallen in the region over the past 24 hours. Local media reported winds reached 80 mph during the accident.