Captain, 2 Crew Members Arrested In S. Korea Ferry Sinking

The search continues for hundreds of people, mostly students, who were on board a South Korean ferry when it sank this week. Correspondent Anthony Kuhn shares the latest with NPR's Wade Goodwyn.

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WADE GOODWYN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Wade Goodwyn. Scott Simon is away. It's been four days since a ferry capsized off the coast of South Korea. Two hundred and seventy passengers are missing, most are high school students. After days of rough seas, divers have finally made it inside the submerged ship. NPR's Anthony Kuhn was with family members this morning and joins us now from the capital, Seoul. Good morning, Anthony.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Hello there, Wade.

GOODWYN: Divers are inside the ship. What have they found?

KUHN: Divers finally managed to get into the passenger decks of the ship. And they saw through a window three bodies, but they were unable to actually get in and recover those bodies. They did not find any survivors yet, but they've been trying very hard all week to get in there. They've been dealing with next to zero visibility, very strong currents. Also, they've been trying to pump air into that ship in the hopes that there are some survivors hanging on in air pockets. And because of that, they've got cranes on the scene, but they haven't tried to lift the ferry out of the water yet for fear that it'll further endanger those survivors.

GOODWYN: Police have arrested the ship's captain and several crew members. What are the charges?

KUHN: The charges against the captain are negligence. They're saying that he abandoned the passengers when they needed them. And a lot of people in this country are angry that the captain apparently jumped ship himself while telling the passengers, these high school students, on the boat to stay put and await help. Now the prosecutors say that at the time of the accident, the captain was actually not on the bridge of the ferry. The person taking the wheel was the third mate, who had never navigated some tricky waters where there are a lot of coastal areas and islands. And this was a very young and inexperienced third mate.

GOODWYN: The vice principal of the high school where most of the passengers were from committed suicide. He was one of the survivors?

KUHN: That's right. As if things weren't bad enough, outside the gymnasium where the parents were waiting for news of their children, they found the vice principal of the school hanging from a tree by his own belt. And on him, they found a suicide note, which said that he just could not stand to go on living to have been saved from the ferry when a lot of his students were missing and feared dead. Now this is a high school that's outside Seoul. It's a middle-class neighborhood, and all of these students were from the second year.

They were sophomores at this high school. They were on a four-day field trip to Jeju Island, which is a scenic spot off the country's south coast. And, I have to say, there's a lot of anger directed at that school. Some of the parents feel that the school did not look out adequately for the kids' safety.

GOODWYN: You managed to talk to a few of the families this morning.

KUHN: That's right. I was there at the port. And, you know, the parents after, you know, four days of waiting, a lot of them are just so heartbroken and so exhausted, they cannot speak to us. A lot of the time, we've been speaking with extended family members - aunts, uncles and cousins who have come down there to help out the families. Again, today, we saw these families making some very strong demands on their own government - the national government, the president of the country. A lot of them felt the media were not doing a good job, not reporting fast enough or accurately enough.

And I suppose in a situation like this, any people would ask a lot of the government, but this a country that, during the Cold War, was under military rule. And there still seems to be a lot of distrust, a lot of leftover lack of confidence. And that has come out in their demands on the government and demands that the government try harder, do anything and everything possible to save possible survivors.

GOODWYN: NPR's Anthony Kuhn speaking to us from Seoul, South Korea. Anthony, thanks so much.

KUHN: Thank you, Wade.

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