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April 18, 2014

Doomed ferry's sharp turn, slow evacuation probed

MOKPO, South Korea (AP) — The investigation into South Korea's ferry disaster focused on the sharp turn it took just before it began listing and on the possibility that a quicker evacuation order by the captain could have saved lives, officials said Friday, as rescuers struggled to find some 270 people still missing and feared dead.

Police said a high school vice principal who had been rescued from the ferry was found hanging Friday from a pine tree on Jindo, an island near the sunken ship where survivors have been housed. He was the leader of a group of 325 students traveling on the ship on a school excursion, and said in a suicide note that he felt guilty for being alive while more than 200 of his students were missing.

Prosecutors and police also said Friday they have asked a court to issue arrest warrants for the captain and two other crewmembers.

Besides the teacher, at least 28 people are now confirmed dead from the ferry, the Sewol, which sank Wednesday. Officials said there were 179 survivors and about 270 people remain missing, many of them high school students. With the chances of survival becoming slimmer by the hour, it was shaping up to be one of South Korea's worst disasters, made all the more heartbreaking by the likely loss of so many young people, aged 16 or 17.

The ship had left the northwestern port of Incheon on Tuesday on an overnight journey to the holiday island of Jeju in the south with 475 people aboard. It capsized within hours of the crew making a distress call to the shore at 9 a.m. Soon, only its dark blue keel jutted out over the surface. By late Friday, even that had disappeared, and rescuers floated two giant beige buoys to mark the area. Navy divers attached underwater air bags to the 6,852-ton ferry to prevent it from sinking further, the Defense Ministry said.

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