Tearful reunion as Sewol remains returned to family

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Tearful reunion as Sewol remains returned to family

The remains of a student missing for more than six months after the Sewol ferry disaster in April was returned to her family on Wednesday, on what would have been the girl’s birthday.

It has been 196 days since the accident.

Rescue authorities announced yesterday that the corpse retrieved on Tuesday in the women’s restroom on the fourth floor of the ferry was confirmed by DNA testing to be that of missing passenger Hwang Ji-hyeon, a student from Danwon High School who was on a class trip to Jeju Island when the ship sank.

Though the confirmation came two days after the discovery, Hwang’s father Hwang In-yeol had earlier said that the body would be his daughter’s given the appearance of the photo taken by the divers.

The body was moved to Paegmok Harbor in Jindo, South Jeolla, on Wednesday night. It was the first time Hwang’s family had seen her since she departed on the doomed journey.

“It must have been a tough journey. You are back on your birthday. Thank you,” Hwang’s father said weeping. Her mother dropped to the ground, crying out her daughter’s name.

Hwang’s parents have prepared breakfast for their daughter every day since June. They performed the same ritual earlier on Wednesday for their daughter’s birthday, preparing seaweed soup, a traditional Korean food for birthdays, a cake as well as some of Hwang’s favorite foods - chocolate, pizza and boiled eggs, among others.

Other bereaved families also came to the harbor and joined in birthday celebration.

“Rest in peace in heaven, I will follow,” Hwang’s father said. They sang “Happy Birthday” to her before descending into tears by the end.

The girl’s remains were discovered on Tuesday, but it took another day to bring her from the water due to rough sea currents and because the bathroom where she was found was too small. The rescue authorities said the divers could not bring the remains to the surface immediately because the body was too decomposed to carry.

“Where Hwang’s body was found is the area that the relatives have kept asking the divers to search again,” Bae Eui-cheol, the lawyer representing the relatives of the 10 missing victims, said in a briefing held Wednesday.

Other families had also complained about rescue authorities’ failed attempts to find the remains of the missing despite having searched the area 10 to 20 times before.

Hwang’s remains were brought by divers on the second attempt of the day and returned to her family.

Hwang is the Sewol ferry’s 295th victim. The previous set of remains, of Lee Myo-hee, 56, a cook on the ship, was found on July 18.

Divers are continuing search operations at the accident scene in the hopes of finding the bodies of the nine remaining victims.

Eight families, including one who lost a father and a son on the ship, are still waiting for their loved ones.

BY KIM BONG-MOON AND CHOI KYUNG-HO [bongmoon@joongang.co.kr]

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