From sinking ship, tales of selflessness emergeFunerals began for the victims of the Sewol ferry disaster, some of whom will be remembered for dying as selfless heroes. Two of the teachers leading the group of 325 11th graders were remembered at a funeral hall in Ansan, Gyeonggi, the home of Danwon High School.
The funeral for Choi Hye-jeong, 24, was held Saturday morning, and that of Nam Yun-cheol, 35, was held yesterday. Choi was one of the first fatalities found on the day of the accident last Wednesday. According to a message posted on a social networking service by one of the students on board, Choi spent her final moments helping her students escape and reassuring them that they would live. Choi reportedly began teaching at Danwon High School last year.
Students also reported that when the ship started to capsize, Nam Yun-cheol positioned himself near an exit, but instead of fleeing he tried calming students as he helped them climb into their life vests. Nam’s body was found Thursday floating near the stern of the ship. “Students say he could have gotten out of the ship but didn’t,” said Lee Seung-seon, the mother of one of the rescued students. “He protected students and distributed life jackets until the last moment.”
The crew of the Sewol has come under withering criticism after 23 of them abandoned the ship and passengers who were caught below deck. But two of the crew died in the tragedy, and four are still missing.
Two members have been singled out for heroism. Park Ji-yeong, a 22-year-old crew member, was remembered for getting passengers into life vests as the tragedy unfolded. When a student asked Park why she was not wearing a life jacket, she replied that she would put one on after all the passengers were saved. Park was found dead on the day of the accident.
Yang Dae-hong, the 45-year-old purser of the ferry, is also believed to have gone down with the ship after trying to save the passengers.
On a final phone call to his wife, Yang reportedly said the ship was listing and asked her to use the money he had saved in a bank account for their child’s education. Then he said he had to hang up because he was going into the ship to save passengers.
There were more tales of heroism. Goh Chang-seok, a 40-year-old teacher from Ansan, yielded life jackets to the students, and another 32-year-old teacher, Lee Hae-bong, rescued students who were hanging on the rails of the ship before going back down below to help more students. Both are among the missing.
Only three out of 14 teachers from the school trip were rescued. The families of the missing and dead teachers are reluctant to show their grief because so many young students were killed in the accident. In addition, erroneous initial reports said that all the teachers escaped unscathed, provoking hostility toward them and their families.
On Friday, two days after the accident, Kang Min-kyu, the deputy principal of Danwon High School, hanged himself near the gym where families of missing passengers were staying in Jindo, South Jeolla.
“I cannot live on not knowing whether the 200 students are alive or dead,” his suicide note read. “I feel sorry for the families, school, students, education office and parents of the students. Please do not blame others for the accident. I am responsible for the field trip. Burn my body and scatter the ashes over where the ship sank.”
At the end of the note he wrote, “I will be a teacher to the students whose bodies are not found on the other side.”
Kang reportedly tried to save students but fainted because of low blood pressure and was rescued by a boat. He blamed himself for making it out and leaving students behind. Kang’s funeral is scheduled for today.
BY KIM BONG-MOON, LEE SANG-HWA [firstname.lastname@example.org]