Simulations show far different fate for the SewolAll 476 passengers onboard the Sewol ferry could have escaped in a matter of five minutes had its crew members told them to leave the ship in time, according to the results of a rescue simulation disclosed during trial yesterday.
The evidence was part of the prosecution’s case against Cpt. Lee Jun-seok and 14 other crew members who are standing trial on charges of murder, manslaughter and negligence for abandoning the ship on the morning of April 16, leaving more than 300 passengers behind on the sinking ferry.
Prof. Park Hyung-joo, in the department of construction and engineering at Gachon University, testified before judges yesterday at Gwangju District Court, explaining the simulation’s three possible outcomes in the minutes after the ship started listing at sea.
The results explained by the professor, a witness for the prosecution, were intended to highlight the magnitude of the crew’s negligence that led to the deaths of more than 300 people, mostly high school students who were on a class field trip.
One of the three scenarios tested by Professor Park revealed that, had the crew members given an evacuation order at 8:50 a.m., when the Sewol ferry was tilting to its left side at 30 degrees, all of the 476 passengers could have escaped from the ship in just five minutes and five seconds, using the third-floor deck on the ship’s left side and all possible exit doors available at the time to get there.
The second scenario found that, had the passengers been told to evacuate at 9:24 a.m., when the captain of another civilian ferry nearby the sinking ship advised the Sewol crew to order an evacuation, all the passengers could have once again jumped off the ferry’s third-floor deck on the ship’s left side in nine minutes and 28 seconds.
At 9:24 a.m., the Sewol was listing to the left at 52.2 degrees. Eight minutes later, a Coast Guard vessel arrived at the accident scene.
The last scenario presumes all the passengers could have still escaped the ferry from the fourth- and fifth-floor decks had they been told to do so at 9:45 a.m., when the ship was listing at 59.1 degrees.
At that time, a first-class navigator attempted to abandon the ship by jumping onto a Coast Guard vessel. At 9:46 a.m., Captain Lee also climbed from the heavily listing ferry into the same Coast Guard ship.
The last scenario calculated the total evacuation time at six minutes and 17 seconds.
On a witness stand, the professor said all three outcomes were made assuming there was no delay in evacuation procedures due to injuries sustained by passengers or disturbances in line from pushing or panic.
When asked by a prosecutor if he thought all the passengers and crew members could have safely escaped the ferry on timely evacuation orders as was simulated, the professor replied, “Yes.”
The results are likely to fuel more public backlash against the captain and crew members, with the outcomes serving as a clear demonstration that hundreds of lives could have been saved under ideal conditions and with correct action - with evacuation orders having been ordered at the right time and the crew fulfilling their responsibilities.
The conclusions of the simulations also paint a picture of the magnitude of the crew’s behavior in the first hour of the calamity and the disastrous consequences, particularly with evidence deducing that all the passengers could have theoretically been saved.
Yet the third scenario is likely more damning for the Coast Guard, calculating a safe evacuation at 9:45 a.m., about 15 minutes after rescue authorities arrived at the scene.
According to video footage disclosed by the Coast Guard after the accident, not a single member entered the ferry to warn or rescue passengers trapped inside.
Those who took part in the bungled rescue efforts later told the media they could not get in the ship because it was listing too heavily.
The Sewol ferry disaster, Korea’s worst maritime accident, left 294 passengers dead.
Ten still remain missing.
BY KANG JIN-KYU [firstname.lastname@example.org]