No sharp turn before ferry tragedy, data show

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New evidence shows that the sunken South Korean ferry did not make a sharp turn shortly before the disaster, but changed course much more gradually, it has emerged.

Full data from the Sewol’s automatic identification system, an on-board transponder used for tracking, showed that the ship in fact made a J-shaped turn 
before listing heavily and ultimately sinking last week, leaving more than 300 people dead or missing.

A ministry of ocean and fisheries official said on Friday that the vessel had taken a sharp turn, but another official said yesterday the AIS data had been incomplete and the true path of the ship became clear when the information was fully restored.

The cause of the disaster is not yet known. The third mate, who is one of those crew members arrested, was steering at the time of the accident, in a challenging area where she had not steered before, and the captain said he was not on the bridge at the time. Authorities have not named her, although a colleague identified her as Park Han-gyeol.

The captain, Lee Joon-seok, and two crew members have been arrested on suspicion of negligence and abandoning people in need. Four other crew members have been detained.

Police formed a cordon around the dock on Jindo island as the latest bodies arrived. The death toll has shot up since divers found a way to enter the submerged ferry. Officials said yesterday the fatalities had reached 104.

The ferry sank with 476 people on board, many of them pupils from a single high school.

Families waited in anguish for word of their loved ones. One of the bereaved, Lee Byung-soo, said when he saw his 15-year-old son’s body in a tent he knew he was dead, but wanted so much for him to be alive. “Stop sleeping!” the lorry driver yelled as he hugged Lee Seok-joon. “Why are you sleeping so much? Daddy will save you!”

He pumped his son’s chest and blew into his mouth to try to resuscitate him, “but I could only smell a rotting stench”.