Coast guard members search for passengers near a South Korean ferry that capsized on its way to Jeju island from Incheon on April 16, 2014.
Coast guard members search for passengers near a South Korean ferry that capsized on its way to Jeju island from Incheon on April 16, 2014. Dong-A Ilbo—AFP/Getty Images

Hope Diminishes for About 300 Missing on Sunken Korean Ferry

Apr 15, 2014
Rescue helicopters flying over the passenger ship Sewol as it sinks in waters off South Korea's southwestern coast on April 16, 2014.
Rescue helicopters flying over the passenger ship Sewol as it sinks in waters off South Korea's southwestern coast on April 16, 2014Yonhap—EPA
Rescue helicopters flying over the passenger ship Sewol as it sinks in waters off South Korea's southwestern coast on April 16, 2014.
Passengers from a ferry sinking off South Korea's southern coast, are rescued by South Korean Coast guard in the water off the southern coast near Jindo, south of Seoul, April 16, 2014
A maritime police helicopter rescues passengers who were onboard South Korean ferry "Sewol" which capsized off Jindo April 16, 2014.
South Korean ferry "Sewol" is seen sinking in the sea off Jindo April 16, 2014.
Rescued passengers brought onto land in Jindo after a South Korean ferry carrying 477 passengers and crew capsized on its way to Jeju island from Incheon, April 16, 2014
Part of the capsized ferry is seen in the sea off Jindo April 16, 2014.
A Woman cries at Jindo port on April 16, 2014 in Jindo-gun, South Korea.
A relative waits for their missing loved one at a port in Jindo, South Korea, April 16, 2014 following the capsizing of the South Korean ferry 'Sewol'.
Maritime police search for missing passengers in front of the South Korean ferry "Sewol" which sank at the sea off Jindo April 16, 2014.
Maritime police search for missing passengers following the sinking of the South Korean ferry "Sewol" at the sea off Jindo April 16, 2014.
Rescue helicopters flying over the passenger ship Sewol as it sinks in waters off South Korea's southwestern coast on Ap
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Yonhap—EPA
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Updated: April 17, 2014, 12:00 a.m. E.T.

Divers continue to search the sunken Sewol ferry off the South Korean coast, but strong currents and poor visibility are hampering rescue efforts, and hopes of finding any of the 288 still unaccounted-for passengers alive are rapidly diminishing.

The ship, heading from Incheon to the resort island of Jeju, transmitted a distress signal at 9 a.m. local time on Wednesday and sank into freezing waters within two hours. A massive rescue operation saved 179 of the 475 passengers, the majority of them students and teachers going on a four-day school trip. There are nine confirmed fatalities.

On Thursday, heartbreaking text messages between anxious parents and students trapped in the sinking ferry emerged in local media.

ABC News reported that texts between a still missing 18-year-old student and her father were broadcast on the South Korean news station MBC News.

"Dad, don't worry. I've got a life vest on, and we're huddled together," wrote the student, identified only by her last name, Shin.

The father replied, "I know the rescue is under way, but make your way out if you can."

"Dad, I can't walk out," she replied. "The corridor is full of kids, and it's too tilted."

There have been nine confirmed fatalities so far, all of them under 30 years old.

Currently, 169 vessels and 29 aircraft are involved in the search effort. Two salvage cranes are expected to arrive at the scene on Friday morning to raise the submerged ship.

The cause of the incident is still unknown, but survivors spoke of a loud crash, leading to speculation that the ferry collided with a rock.

Passenger Koo Bon-hee, 36, told Associated Press that many people had tried, but been unable to break the windows to get out.

"The rescue wasn't done well. We were wearing life jackets. We had time," he said. "If people had jumped into the water … they would have been rescued. But we were told not to go out."

Coast-guard officials have said the ferry deviated from a government-recommended route, and they are currently questioning the captain, who was reportedly among the first to leave the ship.

The government has received a significant amount of flak for its handling of the disaster, with announcements on how many people were on board and how many had been saved being revised on a number of occasions. It was initially stated that only about 100 people were missing.

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