July 29, 2014 at 6:26 am

Teen survivors haunted by South Korean ferry sinking

Ansan, South Korea — South Korean teenagers who survived April’s ferry sinking said Tuesday they are still haunted by the disaster that killed dozens of their friends, and demanded that crew members be punished for abandoning the passengers and fleeing the ship.

Students from Danwon High School near Seoul testified for a second day at the trial of 15 crew members involved with the ferry’s navigation who face charges of negligence and failing to carry out their duty to rescue passengers. The sinking left more than 300 people dead or missing, and most of the victims were Danwon students who were traveling to a resort island on a school trip.

One student said she has had nightmares since the sinking, and another said she feels despondent whenever she thinks about her friends who died. A third student said she was hurt by some Internet postings that made them feel guilty for surviving while others died.

“When I got out of the cabin and moved to a corridor, there was a friend of mine on the other side of a bed (in the cabin) and our eyes met. (My friend) failed to escape,” a fourth student said.

The students’ names were withheld to protect their privacy.

The sinking, one of South Korea’s deadliest disasters in decades, has triggered widespread grief and renewed scrutiny of public safety.

Survivors say they heard no evacuation orders, and prosecutors argued that a timely evacuation announcement could have saved more lives. Prosecutors say the 15 crew members abandoned the ship even though they knew passengers were trapped inside and would die when the ferry sank. The defense has denied any collusion, saying the crew members were confused, injured and panicked.

When asked by prosecutors whether they want the crew members to receive punishment, most of the students said they must be penalized in line with the law.

“They should get appropriate punishment. It’s something that they shouldn’t have done,” one student said.

During Monday and Tuesday’s trial sessions, student survivors said they were repeatedly ordered by loudspeaker to stay inside the sinking ship, but eventually helped each other flee after their cabins became flooded. They said they put on life jackets and were helped by friends who floated to them. One student said she saw some friends swept away by the waters.

Most students described chaos when the ship was sinking. But one said they initially didn’t realize how serious it was so they used cellphones to take photos and video. Video stored on the retrieved cellphone of a dead student which was released to the media in May showed some students joking about the Titanic and taking selfies as fear slowly built after the ferry began to tilt.