MOKPO, South Korea — Koo said many people were trapped inside by windows that were too hard to break.
“The rescue wasn’t done well. We were wearing life jackets. We had time,” Koo, who was on a business trip to Jeju with a co-worker, said from a hospital bed in Mokpo, the nearest major city to the site of the accident, where he was treated for minor injuries. “If people had jumped into the water ... they could have been rescued. But we were told not to go out.”
Oh Yong-seok, a 58-year-old crew member who escaped with about a dozen others, including the captain, told The Associated Press that rescue efforts were hampered by the ferry’s severe tilt.
“We couldn’t even move one step. The slope was too big,” Oh said.
The Sewol’s wreckage is in waters a little north of Byeongpung Island, which is not far from the mainland and about 470 kilometers (290 miles) from Seoul.
“We cannot give up,” said South Korean President Park Geun-hye, after a briefing in Seoul. “We have to do our best to rescue even one passenger.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the U.S. and its 7th Fleet stood ready to assist, including the USS Bonhomme Richard, which was in the region.
The last major ferry disaster in South Korea was in 1993, when 292 people were killed.
TV stations broadcast live pictures Wednesday of the listing Sewol as passengers clambered over the side, jumped into the sea or were hoisted up by helicopters. At least 87 vessels and 18 aircraft swarmed around the stricken ferry.
The water temperature in the area was about 12 degrees Celsius (54 Fahrenheit), cold enough to cause signs of hypothermia after about 1½ hours of exposure, according to an emergency official who spoke on condition of anonymity because department rules did not allow talking to the media.