Nearly 300 people are missing after a South Korean passenger ferry capsized off the southern coast of the Korean peninsula on Wednesday, killing at least four people and injuring at least 55, according to the AP.
The ferry was reportedly carrying 459 people, two-thirds of whom were high school students from Danwon High School, who were on a school trip from Ansan, Gyeonggi province.
Rescue crews from the South Korean Coast Guard have been searching for the missing persons for hours, but the number of those unaccounted for has remained static. Officials believe they are either still trapped in the ship or underwater.
Eighty-seven rescue ships, 18 aircraft and 160 coast guard and navy divers were deployed to help find the missing people, in addition to a US Navy amphibious assault ship, the USS Bonhomme Richard, which was sent to the scene to aid in the search and rescue mission.
It is unclear what exactly caused the multi-story ship to capsize and slowly sink into the sea, but eyewitness accounts describe feeling the ferry jolt and then shudder.
"We heard a big thumping sound and the boat stopped," one passenger told the YTN news channel that.
Video shows the ship at a nearly 90-degree angle in the water with passengers being lifted out of the ship and scrambling over the deck. Some reports are emerging that passengers had been instructed to don lifejackets and jump into the water, where they were told that rescue crews would come find them shortly.
Other footage shows people sliding off the side of the deck as it tilts further into the water, until only the very top of the ship is visible.
The ship left from Incheon and was aiming for Jeju Island, a popular tourist and vacation destination 60 miles off the southern coast.
Korean officials are warning that this might be the worst maritime disaster in decades, if those missing end up adding to the death toll.
“Please make the best efforts to rescue even one more person,” said South Korean President Park Geun-hye. She also urged the rescue mission to utilize “maximum efforts” to try to find the missing people.
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