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article imageSchool official kills self as hopes for ferry passengers diminish

By Nathan Salant     Apr 19, 2014 in Travel
Jindo - An assistant principal from the high school attended by hundreds of students aboard the South Korean ferry that sank in the Yellow Sea this week committed suicide Friday outside a gymnasium where parents of the presumed victims had gathered.
Kang Min-gyu, 52, appears to have hanged himself from a tree outside the gym in the port city of Jindo, according to the Reuters news service.
Authorities told Reuters that Kang had been aboard the ferry when it began sinking Wednesday with 476 passengers and crew, but was rescued.
As of Friday, 174 people had been rescued from the ferry and 28 declared dead, Reuters said.
But the death toll is expected to climb much higher as high seas and murky water conditions hamper rescue efforts.
More than 270 of the ferry's passengers have been listed as missing, Cable News Network reported.
Hopes that passengers were able to survive in air pockets in the mostly sunken ferry faded Friday as the Sewol slipped completely beneath the sea.
Most of the missing passengers were students at Danwon High School in Anson, an industrial city just outside Seoul, South Korea's capital.
The ferry capsized on a trip from Incheon to Jeju, a holiday island off South Korea's southern coast.
In Ansan, friends and family of the missing gathered in silence, broken only by sounds of sobbing, Reuters said.
"When I first received the call telling me the news, at that time I still had hope," said Cho Kyung-mi, who was waiting for news of her missing 16 year-old nephew at the high school.
"And now it's all gone," she said.
In classrooms of the missing, fellow students left messages on desks, blackboards and windows, appealing for the safe return of their friends.
"If I see you again, I'll tell you I love you, because I haven't said it to you enough," read one message.
Investigations into the sinking, the country's worst maritime accident in 21 years, have focused on possible negligence, problems with cargo stowage and vessel defects, although the Sewol passed its safety and insurance checks, Reuters said.
The Sewol's 69-year-old captain, Lee Joon-seok, has been arrested on suspicion of negligence, apparently because he was reportedly one of the first people to excape the ship and was not on the bridge when it started to sink, Reuters said.
Warrants also were issued for two other crew members on suspicion of failing to aid passengers.
"I'm not sure where the captain was before the accident," Oh Young-seok, a helmsmen who was off duty at the time the ship began listing, told Reuters.
"However, right after the accident, I saw him rushing back into the steering house ahead of me," Oh said.
"He calmly asked by how much the ship was tilted, and tried to re-balance the ship," he said.
Divers were able to access the ferry's cargo deck on Friday, but were unable to reach the passenger quarters, a Korea Coast Guard official told Reuters.
Other coastguard officials told Reuters that rescue divers made several attempts to reach passenger areas but failed.
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