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Boy's Phone Call Was First Sign of Korea Ferry Disaster

The boy who made the first distress call from the Sewol is among the 194 who are still missing, presumed drowned.
/ Source: Reuters

The first distress call from a sinking South Korean ferry was made by a boy with a shaking voice, three minutes after the vessel made its fateful last turn, authorities said Tuesday.

He called the local emergency number, 119, which put him through to the fire department who in turn forwarded the boy to the coastguard.

That was followed by about 20 other calls from children on board the ship to the emergency number, a fire service officer told Reuters.

The Sewol sank last Wednesday on a routine trip south from the port of Incheon to the island of Jeju.

The death toll passed 108 on Tuesday, but 194 more remain missing inside the sunken vessel, presumed drowned.

Of the 476 passengers and crew on board, 339 were children and teachers on a high school outing. Only 174 people were rescued.

The boy who made the first call, with the family name of Choi, is among the missing. His voice was shaking and sounded urgent, a fire officer told Korea's MBC TV.

"Save us! We're on a ship and I think it's sinking," Yonhap news agency quoted him as saying.

The fire service official asked him to pass the phone to the captain, and the boy replied: "Do you mean teacher?" The pronunciation of the words for "captain" and "teacher" is similar in Korean.

The captain of the ship, Lee Joon-seok, 69, and other crew members have been arrested on negligence charges. Lee was also charged with undertaking an "excessive change of course without slowing down."

Several crew members, including the captain, left the ferry as it was sinking, witnesses have said, after passengers were told to stay in their cabins. President Park Geun-hye said on Monday that instruction was tantamount to an "act of murder."