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Fears rise for missing in SKorea ferry sinking

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South Korean Coast Guard officers try to rescue missing passengers from a sunken ferry in the water off the southern coast near Jindo, South Korea, Thursday, April 17, 2014. Strong currents, rain and bad visibility hampered an increasingly anxious search Thursday for more than 280 passengers still missing a day after their ferry flipped onto its side and sank in cold waters off the southern coast of South Korea. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

South Korean Coast Guard officers try to rescue missing passengers from a sunken ferry in the water off the southern coast near Jindo, South Korea, Thursday, April 17, 2014. Strong currents, rain and bad visibility hampered an increasingly anxious search Thursday for more than 280 passengers still missing a day after their ferry flipped onto its side and sank in cold waters off the southern coast of South Korea. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

South Korean Coast Guard officers search for missing passengers from a sunken ferry in the water off the southern coast near Jindo, South Korea, Thursday, April 17, 2014. Strong currents, rain and bad visibility hampered an increasingly anxious search Thursday for more than 280 passengers still missing a day after their ferry flipped onto its side and sank in cold waters off the southern coast of South Korea.(AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

South Korean Coast Guard officers try to rescue missing passengers from a sunken ferry in the water off the southern coast near Jindo, south of Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, April 17, 2014. Fears rose Thursday for the fate of more than 280 passengers still missing more than 24 hours after their ferry flipped onto its side and filled with water off the southern coast of South Korea. (AP Photo/Yonhap) KOREA OUT

South Korean Coast Guard officers search for missing passengers aboard a sunken ferry in the water off the southern coast near Jindo, South Korea, Thursday, April 17, 2014. Strong currents, rain and bad visibility hampered an increasingly anxious search Thursday for more than 280 passengers still missing a day after their ferry flipped onto its side and sank in cold waters off the southern coast of South Korea.(AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

Rescue workers carry the body of a victim from a sunken ferry, at a hospital in Mokpo, south of Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, April 17, 2014. The ferry carrying more than 450 people, mostly high school students on an overnight trip to a tourist island, sank off South Korea’s southern coast on Wednesday, leaving more than 280 people missing despite a frantic, hours-long rescue by dozens of ships and helicopters.(AP Photo/Yonhap) KOREA OUT

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MOKPO, South Korea (AP) — Strong currents, rain and bad visibility hampered an increasingly anxious search Thursday for 287 passengers, many thought to be high school students, still missing more than a day after their ferry flipped onto its side and sank in cold waters off the southern coast of South Korea.

Nine people, including five students and two teachers, were confirmed dead, but many expect a sharp jump in that number because of the long period of time the missing have now spent either trapped in the ferry or in the cold seawater.

There were 475 people aboard, including 325 students on a school trip to a tourist island, and some of the frantic, angry parents gathered at Danwon High School in Ansan, which is near Seoul. Other relatives assembled on Jindo, an island near where the ferry slipped beneath the surface until only the blue-tipped, forward edge of the keel was visible.

Relatives of the dead students wailed and sobbed as ambulances at a hospital in Mokpo, a city close to the accident site, took the bodies to Ansan. The families, who spent a mostly sleepless night at the hospital, followed the ambulances in their own cars. At the school, some desperate relatives lashed out in frustration, screaming threats at the news media. On Jindo, one woman passed out and was carried to an ambulance.

The family of one of the dead, 24-year-old teacher Choi Hye-jung, spoke about a young woman who loved to boast of how her students would come to her office and give her hugs.

“She was very active and wanted to be a good leader,” her father, Choi Jae-kyu, 53, said at Mokpo Jung-Ang Hospital while waiting for the arrival of his daughter’s body. Choi’s mother, sitting on a bench at the hospital, sobbed quietly with her head bent down on her knee.

Meanwhile, more than 400 rescuers searched nearby waters. Coast guard spokesman Kim Jae-in said that in the next two days, three vessels with cranes onboard would arrive to help with the rescue and salvage the ship. Divers worked round the clock in shifts in an attempt to get inside the vessel, he said. But the current wouldn’t allow them to enter.

Kim said that divers planned to pump oxygen into the ship to help any survivors, but first they had to get inside the ferry.

The water temperature in the area was about 12 degrees Celsius (54 Fahrenheit), cold enough to cause signs of hypothermia after about 90 minutes of exposure, according to an emergency official who spoke on condition of anonymity because department rules did not allow talking to the media. Officials said the ocean was 37 meters (121 feet) deep in the area.

Kim said coast guard officials were questioning the captain, but declined to provide details or speculate on the cause of sinking. Kim denied earlier reports by Yonhap news agency that the ferry had turned too swiftly when it was supposed to make a slow turn. He also declined to say whether the ferry had wandered from its usual route.

“I am really sorry and deeply ashamed,” a man identified by broadcaster YTN and Yonhap news agency as the captain, 60-year-old Lee Joon-seok, said in brief comments shown on TV, his face hidden beneath a gray hoodie. “I don’t know what to say.”

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