|Air bags can be seen near the capsized ferry in Jindo on April 18, 2014. South Korean coast guard and navy divers will seek to enter into the hull of the sunken South Korean passenger ferry for three hours late Friday after failing to make their way into passenger cabins earlier. (Xinhua/Song Cheng Feng)|
SEOUL, April 19 -- First bodies were found Saturday morning within the passenger cabins of a South Korean ferry, which sank off the country's southwestern coast on Wednesday, local broadcasters YTN and SBS reported.
Coast guard, navy and private divers have tried overnight to make their way into passenger compartments on the third and fourth floors of the five-story vessel where possible survivors were believed to have been trapped.
Three bodies were discovered at around 5:40 a.m. on the fourth floor by private divers with the naked eye for the first time, three days after the 6,825-ton passenger ferry capsized and sank off the Jindo Island near the southwestern tip of South Korea.
The divers arrived at the third and fourth floors of the submerged vessel but had yet to enter into the passenger cabins due to difficulties in opening the doors, low visibility and darkness.
The third and fourth floors are composed of passenger cabins, and there are freight compartments on the second floor and a dining room on the first floor. Divers succeeded in reaching the first and second floors Friday.
Around 87 passengers stayed at the cabins on the third floor, with 353 put up on the fourth floor and seven on the fifth floor.
The underwater search operations were suspended from 11:30 p.m. Friday due to rapid currents and high waves, but the operations were resumed from 4 a.m. Saturday.
Rescue conditions were expected to worsen from Saturday afternoon as strong winds were forecast to blow. The wind speed may rise to 8-12 m/sec Saturday afternoon from 6-9 m/sec in the morning at the site of the accident.
Of the 476 passengers on board, 29 have been confirmed dead and 174 rescued, leaving 273 people still missing. No survivor has been reported yet.
The death toll rose to 29 as a female body in her 70s was spotted 150 meters away from the submerged vessel when divers were conducting nighttime search operations.
Among the passengers were 325 high school students and 15 teachers on their way for a four-day field trip. The ship departed from South Korea's western port city of Incheon Tuesday night for the southern resort island of Jeju.
Among the rescued, 75 were students from the Danwon High School in Ansan, a Seoul suburb. Eleven students have been confirmed dead, with 239 others still missing.