News

Body of boy who made first call found

The body of a high school student, who made the first distress call from a sinking South Korean ferry, was recovered from the submerged vessel yesterday, news reports said.

The student, identified by his surname Choi, had called the emergency number at 8.52am last Wednesday, three minutes before the crew of the 6,825 tonne Sewol sent their first distress signal.

The timing of his terrified message, "Save us. The ship is sinking", has fuelled anger over the slow response of the Sewol's captain and crew as disaster unfolded.

The confirmed death toll stood at 162 yesterday, with 140 still unaccounted for - their bodies believed trapped in the ship that capsized in circumstances that have yet to be fully explained.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency said divers had retrieved the boy's body from inside the ferry and it has been identified by his parents.

A DNA test was being carried out to formally confirm his identity.

The boy was one of 325 high school students who were on the Jeju-bound ferry when it capsized.

During his call, Choi was bombarded with questions about the ferry's coordinates and the number of people on board.

A coastguard official later told reporters that emergency services had mistaken him for a crew member, AFP reported.

In the hothouse atmosphere of anger and grief triggered by the tragedy, the slightest misstep or ill-timed remark by any official can carry career-ending consequences.

There is a general consensus that the ferry sinking has pulled back the covers of the country's great economic success story and revealed a corrupt, incompetent body politic that allows such disasters to happen.

FRUSTRATION

The frustration of the families was mirrored in the wider public and fuelled by the media, with a flood of agonised, introspective editorials questioning what the disaster said about what the country had come to and where it was going.

With emotions sky-high and the language of blame getting harsher by the day, it quickly became clear there would be no mercy given to anyone perceived as speaking or acting out of place - even indirectly.

Mr Chung Mong Joon, a veteran lawmaker who is running for mayor of Seoul this year, felt forced to make a live TV apology after his son wrote a Facebook post criticising the "uncivilised" behaviour of the bereaved relatives in jostling the prime minister and, on a later occasion, heckling President Park Geun Hye.

"I am deeply sorry for my son's childish behaviour," Mr Chung said, after the post prompted an apoplectic public backlash.

Education minister Seo Nam Soo, meanwhile, was twice accused of inappropriate behaviour.

Once was indirectly after an aide was deemed to have made too much of the minister's imminent arrival at a funeral for one of the many students killed.

On another occasion, he was slammed after a picture emerged of him eating instant noodles while sitting on a chair in the gymnasium on Jindo island, where relatives have been camping out for the past week.

Mr Seo was sharply criticised for using a chair while the relatives were sleeping on the floor.

A senior government official in Busan city lost his job after going ahead with a "reward trip" to Turkey, despite a general order for all civil servants to avoid any junkets at a time of national mourning.