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South Korea Ferry Disaster: U.S. Navy Searchers Still ‘Optimistic’

U.S. Navy search and rescue pilots continued to "remain optimistic" that not all of the missing from the sunken South Korea ferry were dead, a military spokesman said Thursday.

Two MH-60 search helicopters were helping Korean officials in the hunt for almost 300 passengers unaccounted for after the Sewol capsized and sank early Wednesday.

Official on S. Korea ferry: We are ‘optimistic’ 2:53

The helicopters are based on the amphibious assault ship U.S.S. Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6), which was on routine patrol west of the Korean Peninsula when the vessel went down.

“For as long as we are tasked to do search and rescue work at the scene we should remain optimistic and hold out hope,” Navy Lt. Arlo Abrahamson told TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie.

He said weather conditions had been “difficult” in the search area, hampering the rescue efforts.

An MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter lands on the flight deck of the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard on April 16, 2014. Sailors and Marines onboard Bonhomme Richard stand ready to render aid at the scene of a sinking ferry near the island of Jindo off the Southwestern coast of the Republic of Korea. MC2 Adam D. Wainwright / U.S. Navy

The U.S. Navy has “a good relationship” with the Republic of Korea's coast guard and navy and conducts regular rehearsals for search and rescue operations, Abrahamson added.

Strong currents and poor visibility underwater mean divers are “groping with their hands,” the Korean official in charge of rescue operation told reporters earlier Thursday.

- Alastair Jamieson