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JINDO, South Korea - Parents of youngsters aboard the doomed South Korean ferry are facing the heartbreaking task of trying to identify bodies that are so badly decomposed that DNA tests are often necessary to confirm its their loved one.
“Because the bodies have been under water for days, even parents don’t recognize their children anymore,” a coast guard official told Korea's Yonhap news agency.
In one case, a body was initially named as Kim from Ansan, where many of the dead students went to high school, and sent to her hometown, according to Yonhap.
However, her DNA did not match with family's, and the body was sent back to Mokpo, where many victims were examined after being recovered from the ship.
Final DNA tests eventually revealed that the body was actually a student from a different class.
An official who is part in the daily recovery operation told NBC News on Friday that some of the victims' faces were recognizable. However, he added that the grieving families are under a lot of stress, which can make it difficult for them to correctly identify their relatives.
"I started to cry thinking that they didn't want to leave each other"
There has been no shortage of traumatic tales to emerge in the wake of last week's disaster.
On Thursday, a diver told how he'd discovered a boy and girl had tied their life jacket cords together. The diver said he had to separate the pair because he could not carry two corpses to the surface at the same time.
"I started to cry thinking that they didn't want to leave each other," he said.
Bodies of children with broken fingers have also been recovered from the submerged ferry, suggesting the victims had frantically tried to climb walls or floors to escape in their final moments.
Divers have told how they have to feel for bodies in the dark as poor visibility makes their grim work even tougher. "We are trained for hostile environments, but it's hard to be brave when we meet bodies in dark water," diver Hwang Dae-sik told Reuters on Wednesday
The anguish is taking a toll, and angry relatives of about 130 people still missing from the sinking surrounded officials on Thursday, preventing them from leaving a tent where families have been waiting for news of loved ones.
Some divers involved in the rescue have questioned whether the government was doing enough to hunt for missing passengers.